Lost in Translation

December 22, 2010 

While I often extol the storytelling power that still photographs can convey, sometimes the best a silent frozen moment in time can give you is a gist of what happened.

On Dec. 16, Benton County Prosecutor Andy Miller received a surprise Hero of Hope award during the Benton-Franklin Adult Drug Court graduation ceremony. It's always fun to be tipped off about a surprise at an event you're covering and I hoped to get a fun, "I can't believe it!" type shot like I did when Judy Reault won the special achievement award at the 11th Annual Tri-City Crystal Apple Awards on March 19, 2009.

Without knowing how they were going to surprise him, however, I wasn't sure what I'd get. At events like Tri-Citian of the Year, the emcee will slowly reveal biographical details about the winner, who usually figures it out by the time his name is announced, so there usually isn't a good gotcha moment, but happy hugs with family and friends can usually convey the elation of winning.

I knew they had seats set aside for his family so I figured their introduction would be the big revelation. Sure enough, his parents, sons and better half came strolling in as the courtroom stood in honor of Superior Court Judge Carrie Runge's entrance. Miller clearly knew something was up as his people filed in from the back entrance, but their surprise appearance wasn't enough to spark major emotion — more of a quiet puzzled look:

As Judge Runge joked that Miller must have figured something was up, he laughed and gestured that he did:

I felt I had snapped the right moments during this time, but after the award presentation, I tried to get some of the family interaction. Without a lot of emotional hugging, however, this was the best I got:

Ultimately, we went with a pretty standard shot of him receiving applause while accepting the award:

It works, but it's the anybody-could-have-gotten-this kind of shot. Still, it's hard to be disappointed. It's not like I blew it or anything. Maybe the moment would have worked with a couple camera angles in a video, where the relationship of who he was looking at would have made more sense, but as a still photo from my perspective, it just doesn't work.

I had encountered a similar problem a few days prior when Kamiakin hosted Richland for some hoops. I already had a pretty good selection of photos for both my photo gallery and options for either team's win. Kamiakin was looking pretty good, though, so I figured I'd finish the half under the basket they were attacking for some wide shots. As Riley Hayfield lobbed a pass up, "No...way..." flashed through my head.

It's rare to see a dunk during high school games around here, much less an alley-oop, but sure enough, Zach En'Wezoh managed to throw it down. Here's the shot we ran in print:


The play electrified the always-rowdy Kamiakin student section, "The Tribe," and even garnered some thumbs up from the Richland fans. I was grinning afterward, happy with my shooting spot selection. I ran into KNDU's Joe Gorchow on the way out. He was kicking himself for not quite getting there in time to capture the rare occurrence and said he was hoping the dunk would get rim-checked.

"Well, I'm glad it went in," I said, dumping some smug salt into his wounds, but I knew whatever still photo we ran wouldn't be as cool as seeing the play unfold. The photo is fine, but it obviously doesn't convey the highlight play in all its glory. This animated GIF of my frames from the take is a little better, but without the erupting crowd, the energy of the moment doesn't come through.

There's no denying the power and emotional impact a truly great photograph can carry. Sometimes, though, the moment just gets lost in the translation into a silent, two-dimensional frame. People often ask me why I take so many pictures when all I need is one. Situations like these are why. It's easy to get caught up in the feeling of being there, but the glass, metal and plastic box I work with doesn't automatically capture that magic. While personal snapshots can evoke the memories for you and the people who were there, it's my job to try and tell the story to people who weren't there the best that I can.

Bonus! Here is a cringe-inducing post on the California Newspaper Publishers Association In defense of posed photos. I see the point that author Ken Blum is making about the crowd-pleasing nature of these group shots, but his assertion that "In the personal world of a community newspaper, a picture of a human face is a picture that tells a story" doesn't hold much water with me. While a picture of a human face certainly can tell a story, when done well, the types of photos he is describing don't tell a story. People just want to see themselves in print. And while our photo galleries certainly cater to this same narcissistic need, it would be a slap in the face to dedicate dwindling news hole in the print product to the group shots he describes.

I haven't seen the issue that he refers to, so I don't know what content was shirked for the "129 posed pictures of winners at our county fair. There was one group photo of 22 people (the fair queen and king and their court) run the full width of a page. There were pictures of kids with ducks, cows, rabbits, sheep, goats, pigs and chickens." And then, "The month before, the same newspaper ran team pictures of 405 kids involved in the county's Little League program."

I'll finish by hopping off my soapbox to tell you about a really cool project called America reCycled, a collection of stories about people across the country who "are finding innovative ways to come together and make revolutionary change on a local level, to regain control of their lives, rediscover independence, and recycle the American Dream." Check it out.

~~~~~

kyau@tricityherald.com
(509) 585-7205
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