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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Those unscripted moments

Yesterday, during a staff meeting, reporter and photographer J.R. Logan glanced at my wall and noticed a plaque for a first-place photo award I had won. He asked me what the photo was that garnered the award. I was embarrassed to admit I didn't remember. Ouch. Not a good teaching moment.
As is often the case with the "little grey cells," the memory came to me in the middle of the night. To be honest, it wasn't a monumental photo, in the sense that it didn't document a cataclysmic event in history. It was a picture of a child at a drinking fountain. Just spare and simple.
The back story is that I was waiting for a parade at my small town's annual founders' celebration. In those days, we still used film, so I had five or six rolls in my camera bag (the hand-rolled variety in reusable canisters). I was geared up to take award-winning photos of kids on floats, girls on horses, flags, waving children, etc. Sitting in the city park, I noticed when a mother brought her toddler to the outdoor drinking fountain. Curious and open to the moment, I swung the camera around and snapped three or four photos of the child taking a drink.
So the parade came and went. I took plenty of pictures, none of them award winning (not that that's the point, but I certainly tried). In that unguarded moment at the drinking fountain, however, I captured a unique image of a child reacting to the unfamiliar splash of water. It was apparent the toddler hadn't experienced a drinking fountain before. I didn't know the picture would be interesting, much less award winning. It would run with the title, "Fountain of youth" and it would appear on the front page in lieu of any of the standard parade pictures. It just felt right to make that decision.
So here's the point: forget the lessons of journalism - and for that matter, set aside the lessons we're taught as adults. Just once and a while, step away from the scripted events or moments of your life and relish those spontaneous interludes. I violated most if not all of the rules of journalism by taking that picture. Was the photo newsworthy? No. Did it represent the biggest events of that weekend? Not at all. The incident itself was mundane, routine, completely unremarkable. It's like taking a picture of someone tying their shoe.
But the photo won first place, and rightfully so. It said more than all of the parade shots put together. It was unscripted and honest.
Once in a while, curiosity and openness to the things that are happening before the big event can make for the most memorable moments.

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