As far as cliché descriptions go, the photojournalist's attempt at being a "fly on the wall," is pretty apt. You're never really entirely invisible, but you stay out of the way and generally speaking, people don't really want you there.
The most important part, however, is not affecting the situation that you are documenting.
Which is why I was startled to read this article by the Daily Mail, which proudly declared that they had "won an Olympic medal for the heroic Great British team" at the Olympics.
If you don't want to read the article or you're banned from entering foreign websites, I'll summarize for you.
After officials at a women's taekwondo quarterfinals match did not award two points to the British athlete for a kick to her Chinese opponent's face, Dave Shopland, a Mail on Sunday photographer, showed the British team manager a photo he had made of the kick, prompting an appeal by British team officials that resulted in a reversal of the original decision.
My ancestry doesn't play a role in my outrage over this situation, but my ethics do, and when I first read this article last month, I stroked my chin, wagged my forefinger in the air and said, "I'm going to blog about this."
Then I forgot about it.
Until I was shooting Wenatchee's 40-20 win over Kennewick last week and caught this grab by Austin Bryan, which was ruled incomplete. It looked to me like he had control of it when I checked the back of my camera and it still looks like a good catch to me.
But you know what? It's not my call to make. My job is to document what happened; the refs do the officiating. Good or bad, it's part of the game. And if it's really bad, like missing-a-foot-to-the-face bad in Beijing, well, you report on it to open a dialogue about what happened and maybe some real change will come of it.
The World Taekwondo Federation, which uses the topically appropriate acronym WTF, will unveil its new electronic protectors at the World Championships in October 2009, and there are now talks of implementing video replays.
So, what's the harm, then? The British athlete got the bronze she deserved and the organizing body is reevaluating its procedures, right? "Get off Dave Shopland's back, Kai!" youre probably yelling.
The problem is that this sets a dangerous precedent for coaches, players and parents to rush up to photographers after they feel their side has been wronged by those lovable bipedal zebras, demanding digital documentation of their distress.
And if that happens, I for one will stick to my guns and take no part in the event I went to document.