Monday, May 29, 2006

My First Day Back at Work

It's been a couple weeks, and I had to get back to it again. Back to photography, back to work. My first job: covering the annual Memorial Day observance in Timonium, a number of miles just north of Baltimore. You can shoot an event such as this, filled with dignitaries and speeches and music, in a literal way, or you can try stepping outside the box.

Keep your eyes peeled not only with what's happening during the event, but around and outside the ropes. A few of us noticed a woman with a stroller, walking with her young son up the hill beyond the ceremonies, where the rifle team stood, waiting to give the 21-gun salute for those Marylanders who had been killed during the war that the U.S. declared in the Middle East, since last year's event. This Memorial Day, the "Loved and Lost" totalled 18 people.

I went beyond the crowd gathered for the ceremonies, walking along the base of the hill, waiting for the family to walk in front of the rifle team, making a poignant image of the youngster in the stroller, sitting in front of the men at the ridge of the hill. The baby's older brother peeked at his sister, who peacefully teethed, unaware of the significance of the day.

The mother's name was Kathleen, who had visited her brother, killed while at work in one of the World Trade Center towers on 9/11/01, and her father, a World War II veteran who died just months after her brother did.

Images can capture an event, or a moment. A scene, or an emotion. Anyone can take pictures, but anyone can also learn to capture history. And journalists have a choice to work in a respectful manner, or take a gung-ho approach, never taking their eyes off the hunt for the award-winner. Journalists can capture those award-winning droplets in time with respect for their profession and for those they must document, or disrespect their subjects, which is a slap in their faces and in the face of the journalism profession.

Many people think that pros with cameras simply break windows, climb walls, trample flowers and stalk just to shove a camera into the face of their subjects. I can't answer for those who do; I can answer for those I have seen in my career, however. Most journalists don't even want to be there to document a gut-wrenching story, especially when survivors are there, filled with pain. That's been my most difficult job. But we must have an unblinking eye to capture moments in time. The good, the bad, and the ugly are all parts of everyday life, from a nearby city neighborhood, to an outlying county, a neighboring state, a country halfway around the world. One of you may have had a terrific day, but the day you smile remembering a moment in your life is a day shared with someone who wishes they could do anything to give that same day back, because the date will forever be marked with hardship and sorrow.

Just think of 9/11, for instance. Much of the country marks it based on the terrorist attacks. But it's also the birthday of the child of proud parents. Or the start of a refreshing change, a day of sober living or freeing one's self from some sort of bondage, be it jail, an abusive spouse, or the move to a new home.

On this Memorial Day, most who lost a loved one in the war wanted to talk to the media. One family even sought me out, wanting to share thoughts about their lost loved one, Robert of Silver Spring, who was killed while serving in Al Taqaddum in March. I only hope that my skills can yield images and footage that people can always return to view. Because once a moment is over, you can't bring it back.

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