Saturday, June 3, 2006

Laying Out Before I Go

Here I was, thinking that I'd be enjoying a nice afternoon at home before returning to work at 4:30pm, since I had to cover the Orioles game against the New York Yankees. So, why didn't it suprise me that I would get a call from my boss at 2pm?

"What are you doing now?" Dudley asked. If he really needs something, I'll try to get it done; he's got the fire that I appreciate in management. So I quickly got ready for a hastily-called 2:30 meeting with Eric and several others, as we reviewed the images I had taken on the "Lost East Baltimore" project.

The area, between North Avenue and Federal, has been caught in stagnation over the decades. Nothing's happening. Except decay and drama. Since last July, I'd been showing face throughout the neighborhood, trying to get the remaining residents to accept me, rather than suspect me. It took a number of months, until the day that I decided to stay in the neighborhood with my cameras until almost midnight. Only the following day, did I realize the effect on my actions.

"You're one of us, now!" yelled one resident, impressed that I would chill out with the folks past dark, with two pro-grade Nikons, walking from block to block, chatting with people. He felt that my actions showed that I meant business. I wanted to show life there, and I wasn't intimidated by the perception of what many would consider a "bad neighborhood." And I only realized what I needed to do after seeing children play outside after the sun set. They aren't afraid of anything. What should I be concerned about?

Literally, everything changed overnight. Residents invited us inside. People on the street were unconcerned if I took photos. A huge weight was lifted off our shoulders. We were, indeed, one of the family.

And it showed in my images. Reporters and editors from different departments stopped my to comment on the telling images they had seen. And it shows when the layout artists have "too much" to work with. The only thing I regret is that I hadn't gotten the video camera to capture some of the voices and actions of the people I met. All it takes is for a photographer to put the camera down and show that (s)he is just as human as the ones being photographed. And hopefully, by next weekend or so, you can check out pick up the newspaper or visit and see some of the work that Eric and I did to present the human side of a poverty-stricken neighborhood that time has all but forgotten.

On a stranger note, my first baseball game in a long time concluded moments ago, here at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. I showed up right before game time (because I had to run out to East Baltimore to shoot a scene-setting shot), and had to bump another shooter from the inside third base photo pit, since our company gets first choice of positions. I hate doing that, but she said that there was no problem.

It was just two innings later that things got a little ugly. A TV camera operator to my right only acknowledged my presence after the second inning, asking in a condescending manner that we switch positions. "You're killing me," he claimed, suggesting that I had been blocking his view of the third baseman.

"No," I replied, "if I give you this spot, I may be blocked, myself." So I stayed put, which frustrated the guy. But there were two other reasons I refused to yield my spot. If he would simply have abandoned his chair to stand, he would have had a clear view of the bag. But, since his video camera rested on his right shoulder, he had a clear shot anyway. He also was in his position well before I arrived, so he had to live with his choice. He simply realized that he was being blocked from his view of home plate by the on-deck batter.

Several plays later, a play at the plate happened, and I stood in the corner, checking my images. Suddenly, the guy jumps along the top ridge of the pit, attempting to climb over my camera to shoot into the Yankees dugout. "C'mon, you're blocking me!" he yelled. "We've known each other for years! I've been out here for years - why can't we work together?!" he said.

I took my headset off, which was tuned to the Orioles' play-by-play. "Dude, I'm not moving. You didn't even say 'excuse me,' and yet you suggest that I'm giving you problems? I'm not moving. You can argue all you want, but I'm not listening, anymore."

The following inning, the Orioles' team photographer came by, and I knew what was going to be said. But, he was calm, cool, and reasonable. I switched without hesitation.

Some people think that their position can give them carte blanche to dictate everyone else. But, when people dictate, they become a dictator. And I don't yield to that kind of person. The other photographers knew what was going on, and they said that I did the right thing. To me, it's about being reasonable. Once someone reacts out of disrespect, how do they expect to be respected?

I wasn't on my game tonight. Although I had a decent image, the desk wasn't thrilled because there was another play I had missed. It's hard to be on the game when you haven't shot games in a long time. Photographers get rusty, and I needed the WD-40 this night. But the weekend is upon us, and I have a day to (kind-of) relax before Sunday's journey to Puerto Rico.

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