Just as Ric wouldn’t normally use Tumblr as a place to vent, I wouldn’t normally use it as a place to tell stories; however, ever since this issue came up, I’ve been thinking about an episode from my time in TV news and how much I understand how the photographer reacted.
I did an internship for a small market TV station while I was in college. While I was there, I shot news for them. There was one particular piece that I shot that changed my mind about what I wanted to do and why I wanted to do it — more than anything else, it led to me getting out of television entirely.
The news item was a fire that burnt down a residential hotel in Hamlet, NC. Standing out from of the hotel, you could see the chicken processing plant that was the locus of a much more famous fire in Hamlet a few years before, something that was on all the journalists’ minds as we stood there.
The thing for me, though, was this was an exciting story. My brain snapped into that and all the emotion closed off, like a reflex. Since this was a residential hotel, the people who lived here were barely doing better than living on the street. I remember one interview quite clearly, with the now homeless man telling us that he didn’t even own a clean pair of socks, that everything he owned had burnt in the hotel.
“Great!”, I thought, making sure I jotted down where to find that quote when I got back to the studio. ”That’ll make a great soundbite.” It didn’t matter to me, in that moment, that this guy was homeless and destitute. What mattered was that he had expressed it well, in a way that would translate into a story.
And it turned out to be the LEAD story on the 5pm news. We got back into the station at 4:15 and I spent the next 45 minutes hammering out a short tease and the longer story, skating into the studio literally as the show was starting to hand my tape to the crew there.
Then, I sat down and watched my story. And I cried because, after my emotions and my empathy had been closed off all day, the story itself was _sad_. When I was working, it was reflexive to put all of that away & buffer myself from what was happening around me so that I could do that job. If the 1994 version of me had been that freelance photographer on that subway platform, I’m sure I would have taken that shot too.
After that story led me to see how easily I could slip into that space, I decided I didn’t want to be that person. I moved away from shooting news and, eventually, away from television entirely…but I still understand where that freelance photographer was and why he took the shot.
I wouldn’t normally use this blog as a place to vent but given this item is about photography and this is a photography blog, here goes…
Some of you are undoubtedly aware of the controversy that started yesterday when the NY Post (Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid in NYC) published a huge front-page…
I think guilt and remorse is misplaced in the situations described above. People need to be informed. That photographer on the subway platform could not have done much to save the man, other than show emotional support. Taking the photo was better than not taking it. Likewise, having a story on the burned hotel was better than not having it.
We should be happy that some of us are willing to subject themselves to this cycle of excitement, news reporting and guilt in order to keep us informed.