Earlier today one of my Facebook friends pointed me towards a New York Times story with a remarkable photo of a lone person walking through dust and debris in a canyon of buildings destroyed by the war in Syria.
I always enjoy our online conversations because each of us have strong opinions, don’t always agree, respect each other, and love photography.
Today we agreed that it’s very difficult for a photographer to express pride or contentment having to shoot photos like the one he pointed me to. It’s not an enjoyable task, shooting disasters and deaths.
I spent almost all of my photojournalism career shooting moments that weren’t necessarily very enjoyable. There’s plane crashes and auto wrecks. Funerals for police, firefighters, children, military, the famous and infamous.
The photo at right is one of those moments where journalism overcame emotion and fear in an attempt to communicate to newspaper readers the gravity of burying six children at the same time.
There were only three frames of film from this viewpoint. I’d left my other cameras with telephoto lenses in the car and walked up to the crowd of mourners carrying one camera with a wide-angle lens. I stood quietly at the edge of the crowd gathered tightly against the edge of the tent covering the families and the caskets. I stayed quiet, my camera concealed under my winter coat, until I could see through the space between the heads of several mourners that emotion had reached its zenith.
As the parents hugged and the pastors said the final prayers I reached over the crowd positioned my camera in where I hoped it would be a good angle and fired three frames. No motor drive. This was film days and cameras still had a thumb drive for moments just like this.
As soon as I shot the three frames I returned to my car and left.
I knew I had photos to help tell the anguish of a funeral for six children. Also, I didn’t want to explain my actions to anyone who was offended.
My actions were cold and calculated. I anticipated one of the reactions would be anger at me. Still, the story needed to be told. I am a photographer. I did what was needed to tell the story.
No one chased after me. No one complained. There were no nasty letters from readers.
I did receive congratulations for succeeding with a good photo in such a tough situation.
I thought of this photo when I had my Facebook conversation this morning. Especially after what had happened the night before.
One of my granddaughters visited last night wanting me to give her a bunch of black and white prints from my archive so she could decorate the walls of her room. Among her choices, in addition to the dogs, cats, and skunk photos, were photos of Jerry Rubin, Jane Fonda, Stokely Carmichael, a couple of presidents before Clinton, andassorted spot news photos. Sandwiched in the collection now covering her walls are old news photos showing disasters, insurrection, injury, and recovery.
All are now decoration for a teenager’s room. They are not even the poignant records of events forgotten in time except for the participants, and the photographers who were the observers.
They are decoration, wallpaper in black and white blurred to the grays of history.
At right is My Final Photo for Monday, April 8, 2013.