Shooting Sadness

©2010 Chicago Tribune/Alex Garcia

I was a vulture today. At least that was the term used by a police officer. He and I were both watching a group of television cameramen and reporters surround a couple as they left the scene of a triple murder in the suburbs. I wasn’t a part of the group, although I easily could have been. I had been photographing people’s reactions, such as the man above in what was a very heartbreaking scene.  Even though I was out there with everyone else, waiting to find whatever tidbit of information we could find, I didn’t see a picture in that one mob so stepped away.  So the officer muttered “…vultures..”, and truth be told, I saw it too.  At face value, either in movies or in real life, it is ugly. And I struggle with it.  There is another side, of course. If there were no photos to show the emotion of a scene, news such as this would have less capacity to arouse the body politic to action, and to ask countless questions that urgently matter, such as, is the killer on the loose? Was the home invasion random or part of a pattern? Is the community safe?  Emotional pictures are like an alarm bell to pay-attention-to-this-one. They encourage connection, empathy, concern, and hopefully action.  Having said that, there is such a thing as too much. Both in process and result. Invasive. Gratuitous. Insensitive. I’m sure there are countless stories of this, and I won’t seek to defend them. I’m not alone in trying to balance the need to get information out quickly, with the need to respect someone’s emotional space in a public setting. My television colleagues have pressures that I don’t fully appreciate, but those I respect also struggle with it. Perhaps I should take the advice of a different police officer who said later, “you’re just doing your job.”  In the end, this post is not meant to be a confession, a defense, or an appeal for absolution. It’s just a statement of fact. I felt like a vulture today. And I’ll never get used to it.

Alex Garcia


  1. The muttering, law enforcement official has no idea what you do for a living or how to do it. The muttering, law enforcement official has no clue how easy it is for radio & print journalists to cover these and hundreds of other events in near anonymity, while photo and video journalists must actually see what they are covering and be close enough to the subject(s) in order to successfully capture useful images. Next time, ask the muttering, law enforcement official how photo/video journalists should cover these types of events without being “vultures.” Also remind the muttering, law enforcement official that, just as he was assigned to his duties for the day, so were you and dozens of other journalists assigned to your duties by a superior. Ask the muttering, law enforcement official what typically happens when he refuses a superior official’s assignment. Finally, remind the muttering, law enforcement official that his counterparts in the City of Chicago routinely LAUGH at suburban law enforcement officials such as himself because they could never survive plying their “craft” in the country’s third largest city.

    • I think you’re right that the ‘burbs has something to do with it…city guys are used to all of us…

  2. This is our job. This is our profession. This is what we have chosen as our livelihood. There is no shame or disgrace in diligently and professionally carrying out our assigned duties and work. Very few people understand what we do or how we do it. Most folks who haven’t a clue about journalism find it easier to criticize and harder to empathize. Also, for the overwhelming majority of our readers, listeners and viewers, they will NEVER come as repeatedly close to tragedy and death as we do on a regular basis. And they shouldn’t have to. That’s where we serve them. If the stories and pictures were never distributed, or displayed, or printed, or broadcast, then folks living in the neighborhood in question might feel a bit cheated, a bit insecure, and a bit fearful when they finally DID learn of this tragedy. “Why didn’t the media report it? I live right down the street and I never knew exactly what happened!” We do the “dirty work” so folks can live and learn and perpetuate and endure and prosper. And very seldom are we thanked.

    • I agree with you. The only caveat I would put to this, though, is the politics of the moment can drive behavior more than altriusm, or, “the fear of what your competitor is getting”. Tracy Timberlake explains this pretty well on this blog’s fan page at

  3. I don’t generally shoot “newsworthy” photos, but I do feel keenly aware of editorial-type pictures. As part of your caption for another picture, you said, “Even with a portrait, you try to tell a story.” I would say that every picture does tell a story (in fact, many stories), and this is the true work of every photographer. We reveal the truth we perceive and there is a certain beauty to every truth, however ugly. Of course, some completely exploit and disfigure the truth for ugly motivations. I can see the stories and motivations in your pictures, and I say that if you keep your motivations good, it will be hard to go wrong with your truth-revealing art. You may be perceived by one who doesn’t understand (or who has been jaded by others) as a vulture, but you aren’t by me.

    I like your pictures, by the way, even the hard ones :-)

    • Thank you, Ben. I’m going to chew on “there is a certain beauty to every truth, however ugly”…. We should talk photo sometime in person:-)

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