Thursday, February 17, 2011

Military Funeral

I shot my third funeral in as many months last weekend. First was a police officer's funeral, then a Marine funeral and now Army Spc. Ryan Gartner's funeral. At all three of these funerals, the family members agreed to let media come inside for the church service and attend the burial. It's a tough situation to be in, and really a huge responsibility. You feel almost an obligation to the family that let's you in. They are sharing what could be one of the lowest points of their lives, making it my job to tell their story with dignity and respect.

Both the father's (above) and mother's emotions were pretty raw. Their son was scheduled to come home in two weeks, and they were still waiting for answers about the specifics of their sons death. It was an unthinkable situation for both parents.
I had shot several strong images of the mother, all of which just broke my heart. The last image (lower right) was during the gun salute. Her mother was trying to comfort her and she pulled away, almost in anger.

And then she looked right at me.

It was hard to tell what she was thinking as she looked down the barrel of my zoom lens. Who knows if she was even looking at me. It was a brief glare, then "Taps" began to play. It was one of those moments where I felt terrible for being there, like I was somewhere I didn't belong. I paused for a few minutes, found a new spot, and then continued shooting.

I hung around until it was over. All the condolences had been given and only a few family members remained. That's when I saw the mother going back to the coffin to sprinkle a bit of dirt on her son's casket and say goodbye one last time. It would have made another emotional photo. I was getting ready to lift my camera before I stopped myself. Maybe I still felt guilty. Maybe I was just being weak, but I felt like this wasn't a moment for me to capture. I'd captured plenty of photos already that told the story. No, I thought, this moment belonged to her.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Turtle Power

We had a bit of a cold snap recently. Like, below freezing. And while our temperatures were probably still the envy of most of the country, it was big problem for the sea turtles.

Hundred's of turtles, stunned by the drop in water temperatures, started floating in the bays and washing up near a local fishing pier. Most of them weren't dead, they were just stunned by the cold and unable to move or swim. They just needed a place to warm up before they drowned. That's where the turtle experts from the Padre Island National Seashore came in. They collected hundred of turtles from the area and further south. I met them at one of the hatcheries to see what they had collected. It was quite a catch.

It was really cool to see all the turtles, even though they mostly just laid there. It was one of those things the average person doesn't get to see. This job is full of surprises sometimes. They couldn't warm up the turtles too quickly. After about a week or so, the turtles were let go back into the gulf.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Slice of Life

I was shooting a high school JROTC inspection recently, and shot this image of a couple of the JROTC members practicing before the inspection started. I loved the photo, but I quickly started to get the same question: What's up with the guys head sliced off?

I got the question from one of my editors, who thought the photo may be a bit confusing to the average reader. I started to wonder if she was right. Did it tell the story, or did I shoot this just for me? Well, I kind of thought it was both. After talking it out with her and a designer, it ended up the lead photo on the front page. I was excited.

But guess who wasn't excited: Mom. The next day a coworker said she got a call from the photo subject's mother. She said the mom wanted to know if I had a copy of the photo where her son's head wasn't cut off. Unfortunately the answer was no. I shot about four or five frames of the kid, and in all the shots I had cropped out the guys face in camera. The photo wasn't about him, I tried to justify. It was about the action and the drawing of the sword and the pagentry of the event and so on and so forth. In other words, the photo was really about me.

That's not necessarily a bad thing. I think I should shoot more for me when I go out on assignments. It's my job to make photos with impact, though I definitely see the mother's point. It's a tricky balance sometimes.