©2009 Chicago Tribune/Alex Garcia
“Cameras have gotten so good nowadays, any old lady in tennis shoes can take a good picture.” Those words, spoken by a college journalism dean, pretty much sums up a popular belief about photography. But they were spoken 20 years ago, when I was a student and digital cameras were just a gleam in a techie’s eye. So I’m little fazed when people says cameras are so easy and plentiful “everyone is a photographer” or that newsrooms will be replaced with cheap labor . “You mean you just take pictures?” I’m sometimes asked, incredulously. Even as the barriers to enter photojournalism lower, there is still the reality that, like news-gathering, it’s demanding and expensive. I’m reminded of this while shooting a high-rise condominium which caught fire in downtown Chicago, killing one and injuring several others. My assignment was to take day-after pictures. In addition to shooting other photos of the aftermath, I was able to secure permission to photograph from a nearby building. For many hours, at the bequest of an editor, I was in the cold with no food and water waiting for someone to pass through these windows. But waiting hours on a big news story for a picture that might not happen is normal. The courthouse, city hall, the governor’s home…I’m pretty sure that if I were anyone but someone on a newspaper staff, there would be greater pressure to bolt. But persistence like this is often rewarded with a tangible piece of information that becomes the basis for a bigger story for our readers. Sometimes you get zip. Sometimes, despite all creative efforts, your image is..meh. Sometimes an investigation gets launched or an amazing picture lands like a UFO in your front yard. You just never know.
So I’m standing there, thinking about this stuff, and a resident comes out with his iPhone. He takes a picture of the structure and walks away after only a few seconds. Were I to do the same… Persistence, access, news judgment, preparedness, artistic vision, heart. There are just no apps for that.