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Clippings: Losing battle for the perfect photo

As a photojournalist I don’t really fit the mold. Compared to other shooters out there I am pretty laid back and quiet. I try not to get in anybody’s way (sorry if I have ever been in your way) and, please don’t tell my boss, I am not always willing to do anything to get “the shot.”
A few years ago at a newspaper conference in Boston I was among a roomful of photographers debating a photo of a young drowning victim being pulled from a river by a rescue worker. The consensus in the room was to get the shot at any cost. When I raised my hand and explained how I always try to respect local police, firefighters and rescue workers, and that in the back of my mind I am a member of the community first and photojournalist second, the room suddenly got a little too quiet. I feared my nametag would be torn up and my complimentary glass of water thrown in my face.
Even in much less dire circumstances media aggression can get my goat. Several years ago, before the new Lake Champlain Bridge was even a glimmer in anyone’s eye, I stood on the shore of the lake near the old bridge with a couple of other photojournalists and a TV news videographer. We were there to witness a reenactment of a historical lake crossing with a couple of 18th-century re-enactors in a small row boat. As it drifted closer and closer, we all found a good position from which to shoot. I dropped to a knee, framed the bridge in the background and waited for the landing. The boat ran aground and just as the re-enactor rose to his feet the TV news guy ran up and stuck his lens within inches of the bow so he could get a close-up of a foot stepping off the boat. My shot, and everyone else’s, was ruined. My blood boiled.
Needless to say, when I attended the opening of the new Lake Champlain Bridge this past Nov. 7 and saw the great gauntlet of videographers and photographers laid out at the base of the bridge, my blood, if not exactly boiling, did start to simmer. And believe me, gauntlet is not an exaggeration. Behind the V.I.P. seating area there was a line of tripod-mounted TV cameras that stretched nearly from one side of the road to the other. And the sides of the road were lined with print reporters and photographers.
Long before the ceremony started I asked an organizer how the event would unfold and where I could be to get my shots. I guess I was the only one to ask because as the media gathering grew to critical mass it was apparent all sense of order had vanished.
To make matters worse, among the teeming mass of media I only recognized a handful of people. The rest were interlopers. On my territory. I had photographed the old bridge for the Addison Independent for more than 10 years in every season, in all weather and from every angle. I had leaned out the open window of a small plane to photograph the bridge from the air. I had paddled under it in a canoe and walked under it with ice fishermen. I photographed inspectors checking the bridge just days before it was closed on Oct. 16, 2009. And on Dec. 28, 2009, when explosions flashed and smoke rose and crowds cheered as the old bridge was brought down, I was certainly there.
Didn’t everyone know this was my bridge? Why was I confined to a tiny spot with no wiggle room?
Then I looked at the old-timers sitting in the V.I.P. area in front of me who had been at the opening of the old bridge in 1929. And I looked at the hundreds of non-V.I.P people behind me. These were most likely people who lived or worked near the bridge. Maybe they had relied on the old bridge every day before it was demolished. They were the entitled ones. And what was their view of the ceremony? A dense line of TV cameras and my big, fat you-know-what. Who was I to be standing between them and history?
When it came time for the ribbon cutting, the V.I.P. section stood for a better angle (on account of the many photographers now blocking their view) and one veteran newsman standing behind them next to his TV camera yelled out, “Down in front! Down in front!” I felt ashamed and didn’t make eye contact with any of the hundreds of people behind him and me who hadn’t been able to see any of the ceremony, let alone the ribbon cutting. I realized my little spot was pretty darn good. Maybe I didn’t get every shot I wanted, but I think I got some good ones. And I didn’t have to shove anyone to get them.

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