f/8 and be there

To be able to photograph the news you have to be where the news is happening. Seems a simple concept but careers have been made because of it. Case in point: When Haiti was rocked by Tuesday’s devastating earthquake one of the first images transmitted from Port-au-Prince was this one by freelance photographer Tequila Minsky. Her image, transmitted over the Internet was published in countless daily newspapers the next morning. Here’s a link to The New York Times story about how Ms Minsky managed to get this image and many more out to the world.

And thus the saying “f/8 and be there.” Nothing beats being where news breaks out. Doesn’t matter if you’ve got a million dollars worth of equipment if you’re sitting in your office a 1,000 miles away from the incident. And, if you are there, an IPhone camera, and one low-rez image can make you famous. (I’m thinking of that amateur video of the young girl dying after being shot during a demonstration in Iran.)

Back in the 1970’s I too was first at the scene of one of the first major high school shootings in North America which took place at Brampton Centennial Highschool on May 29, 1975 in Brampton, Ontario (then a small city 40 km north-west of Toronto). The photo on the right is the original Canadian Press wirephoto which was published in newspapers across North America and Time magazine. (When it came over our wire machine our managing editor ripped it off and handed it to me.) The shooting which ended up with three dead (one teacher, a student and the boy with the gun) and 17 injured took place just after 11am. Our newspaper The Daily Times (a small city daily newspaper with a circulation of 10,000 now long closed) was getting read to go to press that day when I got a call from a newspaper photographer from a Toronto daily asking me if I knew why ambulances from neighbouring communities were converging on Brampton. I had no idea but I grabbed my photography equipment and accompanied by one of our better journalists headed over to the incident. I had a police scanner in the car and as we drove it became increasing obvious that something big and awful had happened in our little community.

We pulled up in front of the school (after trying to pass an unmarked police cruiser doing 85 mph (we were in British units of measurement back then) in a 25 mph school zone. I was sure I was going to be arrested for that stunt.) and ran into the school. We were confronted by police officers with weapons drawn and were escorted out of the building. As we stood on the lawn the wounded began to be carried out of the building. As this young fellow in the photo was brought out he was screaming so loud I thought I was going to be sick and I dropped down to one knee just in case and fired off this image of ambulance workers and teachers. I shot hundreds of frames and scores of them were published but it was this one that won the South-Western Newspaper Association Spot News Photography Award for that year. At the banquet in Kitchener, Ontario I sat at the head table beside another award winner who had just got back from Viet Nam. Our entire news staff were there as well having won several awards for group coverage of the event. So were all our girlfriends and boyfriends, husbands and wives. It was an amazing night I’ll never forget.

I had been a news photographer for all of six months.

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