Strengths and Weaknesses

An alternate title for this post might be, “What I Don’t Do Best.”

For my entire career, I have had the privilege to work a job that I love. I am a news photographer. I get to attend and photograph events that shape the lives in my community, from lazy July 4 parades in one-street towns to college football national championships; from high school graduations to swaths of tornado damage; from kids playing in the park on beautiful days to my least favorite thing to photograph: human suffering.

House fire today in Pickett; an image like this can tell the story to our readers without invading personal space.
House fire today in Pickett; an image like this can tell the story to our readers without invading personal space.

I thought about this today as I drove away from a devastating house fire in the small community of Pickett, Oklahoma. I could see a dense plume of grey smoke hanging in the morning sky as I approached, listening to firefighters on the scanner saying the house was “fully involved.” The brick home was completely engulfed when I arrived, and just as I did, so did the owner of the property. She ran up to the burning remains of her home and was immediately restrained by firefighters. She kept screaming, “It’s my house!” Finally she fainted, and was carried to an ambulance, where she apparently regained consciousness and continued screaming.

I could not make myself photograph her. I know a lot of news photographers would, and those images might then win awards for them. But throughout my career, I have always been reluctant to intrude on violent, intimate, terrible moments like that. In the past when I have, I always did it from a distance, with a long lens, trying to hide behind obstacles and remaining quiet. In the moment, it is very obvious that no matter how prestigious the accolades might be for such a photograph, it is a violation of a private, horrible event for someone.

As the years have passed and I have become a welcome member of this community, winning awards has become less important to me than telling stories in a compassionate way.

Previously unpublished image of the catastrophic "Funeral Crash" of May 1992, when four members of a family driving to a funeral were killed when struck head-on by a pickup truck; I used my 300mm and kept my distance to shoot images like this one that day
Previously unpublished image of the catastrophic "Funeral Crash" of May 1992, when four members of a family driving to a funeral were killed when struck head-on by a pickup truck; I used my 300mm and kept my distance to shoot images like this one that day.
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2 Comments

  1. Richard,

    More than most news photographers, I completely agree with you about this (and you’ve won many more awards than I have). I always felt uncomfortable photographing the innocent people involved, especially when my editors would send me out with: “Make sure to get a shot of the people!”

    I’m sorry, but I never felt that it was “news” that a person was crying at their house fire. The *news* was the fire itself; I felt it should be assumed that someone would grieve over it.

    The only emotion I ever felt good about capturing was positive emotion, like the celebrations at sporting events:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/saintseminole/110374309/

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  2. After I received additional comments, I thought I would add a few notes:

    -This blog, and all of richardbarron.net, is not in any way officially connected to any printed publication or corporate entity.
    -Journalists are permitted on private property without the owner’s concent in the same fashion as other responding personel, provided they are covering a news event the law describes as being “of legitimate public concern.”
    -The best way to debate the conduct of police officers, journalists, firefighters, victims, or anyone else involved in serious situations like this one is by writing a letter to the editor of you local newspaper.

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