Laura is a pro.
Specifically, she is a photojournalist working for a daily metropolitan newspaper. Through years of experience providing photographic documentation of news stories ranging from the boringly mundane to the stunningly spectacular, she has honed her craft as a bona fide journalist and a Canonized – or was that Nikonized? – storyteller.
She’s good at what she does, with equal parts skilled technician, veteran reporter and sensitive artist. On top of that, she’s one of the most pleasant people you’ll ever meet. She’s bright, articulate and fun. And she’s got a laugh that make most curmudgeonly editor smile.
But she’s also tough. Years of walking into the middle of breaking news stories on a tight deadline will do that to you. Sometimes you have to push your way past other photographers, hypersensitive security personnel and overly cautious PR-types to get the shot you need. Laura has learned to do that without resorting to paparazzi-like brashness. She is bold, confident and assertive. If she wants a picture, she’ll get it. Whatever it takes.
That’s why I was interested in watching her at work last week. She was assigned to photographs a news event that I was covering as a reporter. Now, keep in mind that I don’t normally cover hard news. The things I cover are softer and less gritty – probably because I’m a soft, grit-less kind of a guy. But this story did have some serious photographic potential because it involved a Native American medicine man performing a blessing ceremony, complete with ceremonial dress and face paint, a sacred eagle wing and a peace pipe.
I didn’t have to tell Laura what image I wanted for my story: the medicine man chanting, waving the eagle wing and passing the peace pipe around the circle of guests at the event. She knew it – better than I did – because she’s … you know … a pro. As the medicine man prepared to begin the ceremony, I could see her moving quickly to position herself for the best shots.
Just before he started to pray, however, the medicine man asked those in the circle to put down their cameras.
“Watch and record this with these,” he said, pointing to his eyes. “These will be better than any camera you have. Watch with these and you will have images that will last forever.”
Well, that’s all well and good for the people in the circle, I thought, but that doesn’t do anything for the readers of my newspaper. I glanced at Laura and gestured my feeling that she should go ahead and shoot. She was there as a reporter, not a participant. So when the medicine man started to chant, Laura clicked off a few photos from her position just behind the circle.
Immediately, two young women in the circle whirled toward Laura and shot righteously crusty looks at her. They didn’t say anything, but clearly they were annoyed at the sound of Laura’s camera during what, for them, was a sacred ceremony. Laura took her camera from her eye and looked at the young women. I expected to see the emergence of tough, bold, assertive Laura. She was, after all, completely within her rights. The group sponsoring the blessing had invited us to document the event. We were in a public building where others were passing by the group, oblivious to what was going on. There was no reason why she needed to stop shooting.
And yet, she stopped shooting. She nodded her apology to the young women, packed up her gear and moved to another location from which she could photograph the blessing less obtrusively. After the ceremony I went to her, filled with indignation, and asked her if she wanted me to complain to the event organizers.
“It’s no big deal,” she said, smiling as she zipped up her camera case. “Some things are worth worrying about. This isn’t one of them.”
She was right, of course. Even I can see that now. But when we’re in the middle of stuff, it’s difficult to maintain that perspective. We get so caught up in our rights, our priorities and our own agenda that we can’t see any other possible points of view. We need to remember that there are some things that are worth worrying about and fighting for and anguishing over – and some things that just aren’t. True wisdom comes in knowing which is which.
Oh, and by the way the photos turned out great.
Like I said, Laura’s a pro.