Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Thank Your Photog

Love through the Lens

This time of the year makes me think of television news photographers or photojournalists. There is a noticeable difference between a “shooter” and a photojournalist. “I can make a “package” (AKA TV news story) out of a doorknob, former Austin photojournalist Gary Blankenship used to say. I believe that he could. The whole concept of a well-shot TV news story is to tell the story in pictures—No narration or reporter needed.

Some photojournalists are instinctive. It is like the camera is part of them. Rob Lee, Kenny Kaplan, Josh Stephen, and Mike “Choo-Choo” Stanberry can be counted among them in the lore of Austin news photographers. Put them in a “spot news” situation and the camera would see, hear, and possibly feel and smell. Rob is still around doing free-lance work. Kenny is back on the East Coast working in TV close to 24/7. Josh is also still in the business elsewhere, while giving tender care to his wife, a cancer patient. “Choo” is no longer alive. I think that sensory overload may have contributed to “Choo-Choo’s” early death.

Photojournalists are artists too. Look closely at the screen during a staged sit-down interview. Consider the lighting. The casual viewer might sense that something looks good or bad but not know why. But look at the lighting again. Look for shadow or lack of shadows. Look at colors created by gels chosen by the photographer. A great photog can create these scenes fast with ease. It’s the eyes. Former Austin news photographer and homegrown son Tyrone Wright used to say, “If you need to find something, find a photographer.” Ty is out of the business, happy in New Mexico. But, he was talking about the eyes, the attention to detail.

But why is it that I bring up photojournalists this time of the year? Well, it is about the approaching holidays. Some photojournalists have the special knack of helping us all see the world through their eyes, through their lenses.

It came natural to former KTBC TV chief photographer David N. Smith, and David first did it with a 16 mm Bell and Howell film camera. KXAN TV’s Jim Swift is more than the dean of Austin news reporters. Until only recently, he shot almost all of the video for his stories. He added the reporter’s track or narration to the stories as he edited—something that drove to madness news producers trying to time their shows. I would not be a bit surprised if Swift isn’t still shooting. Finally, a former KXAN chief photographer, Al Marabella had this uncanny ability to capture a moment of emotion with a camera.

Most every Thanksgiving, Al would head to the airport anticipating homecomings. Every year was different. It was perhaps easier at Robert Mueller Airport before 9-11. None of it was staged. Loved ones met each other at the gate shedding tears as they hugged each other closely like they’ve never hugged before. The faces, the faces! Some young, some old! Each greeting communicated messages of Thanksgiving and love that no words can express.

Man, that was good television.

(C) Jim McNabb

1 comment:

Austin Anderson said...

Yes, Jim you are correct sir. I fondly remember and admire nostalgically every Thanksgiving special piece Al Marabella offered us. A photojournalist also is one who can anticipate what is about to happen and be in focus and rolling as it happens. That is because they follow the story and are not just pointing and shooting what they are told. Al had that knack of anticipation in his homecoming spots. Thanks for the memories.