“We’re all one trade away from humility, Buddy.” ~Wall Street
“We’re all one phone call from out knees.” ~Mat Kearny
“Be careful.” ~my wife Abby, every time I leave the house.
Saturday night Abby and I were watching the annual Oklahoma vs Oklahoma State football game, which has been known for decades in our state as the “Bedlam Bowl” or just “Bedlam.” I think it’s a lame moniker at best. The game, on the other hand, is often a good one.
I shot my first OU vs OSU game on November 30, 1985, in Stillwater, Oklahoma, a game which earned legendary status as the “Ice Bowl.” You can read my short story about it here (link.)
Photographically, I was as green as I could get, having started my first full-time job as a news photographer for The Shawnee News-Star just a week earlier.
Working the game that night was unproductive, because of the ice, because of my inexperience, and because I was using a 1970s-era Canon 600mm f/4.5 with a Nikon adapter on it, lent to me by an Associated Press photographer. It was essentially junk, and at f/4.5, not nearly enough lens for the night game at Lewis Field. I have no memorable images from that memorable game.
It can be a bit perilous on the sidelines, particularly at the college and professional levels, where the athletes are bigger, faster, and more aggressive. In 1994, a friend and colleague from East Central University, Rebecca Kennedy, and I were on the sidelines in Durant for the annual ECU vs Southeastern end-of-season rivalry football game. I was shooting with my 300mm, and she had a 70-300mm zoom. When a play started coming toward us, I was overlensed right away, so I lowered my camera to see the runner and the defenders coming directly at us. I think I said something like, “Look out!” and backed up. Rebecca continued to follow the play by zooming out, and was at the center of 280 pounds of running back being tackled by 320 pounds of lineman. She was driven back six yards or so, and her camera and eyeglasses flew all the way to the fence.
Rebecca was okay, but later felt the effects of the incident.
“You’ve got be aware of your surroundings when you’re shooting. You could back off a cliff. It’s easy to get lost in the viewfinder. You have to be careful,” Abby reminded me as I wrote this.
Sometimes even heightened awareness doesn’t keep you safe.
On Halloween night 2003, as I was leaving my apartment for an Ada vs Glenpool football game, Abby told me, “Don’t get run over.” It was the only time she ever told me that, and sure enough, I did get run over, despite efforts to get away from the play. I wasn’t hurt, but the Nikon D1H I was using was knocked out of my hands and crushed by the players, and had to be replaced.
Again a couple of years ago, I was photographing the “spirit line” at an Ada High game, hoping to get players bursting through the paper poster during the runout, during which the players take the field. I thought I was in a good spot, but I was just a few inches too close, and a player knocked one of my cameras out of my hand. Fortunately, no one landed on it, so it rolled harmlessly down the field, only damaging the plastic lens hood, which was easy to replace.
So anyway, back to watching the game Saturday night, which is what brought all this to mind. After the Oklahoma State players took the field, we saw a brief shot of a photographer on the ground in the end zone, surrounded by medical personnel. I turned to Abby and said, “I wonder if that’s anyone I know,” since we couldn’t see the photographer’s face. It turns out that it was, in fact, an acquaintance of mine, Daily Oklahoman photographer Sarah Phipps. Before halftime, her boss, our friend Doug Hoke, posted on Facebook that Sarah had a broken tibia and fibula, and would require surgery.
The good news in this story is that she has since had surgery, and it was successful, so she’ll be okay. We all wish her a speedy recovery.
We all know that we face a level of risk in any photographic endeavor, whether hiking in the depths of the desert, climbing a scaffolding to get a better angle, ducking fowl balls in a dugout, standing on Lightning Ridge waiting for a tornado, or on the sidelines covering football. We do what we can to stay safe, but in the end, we correctly believe that some risk is necessary for us to make great photographs.