One of the things that fascinates me about how photographers doing news/documentary, is our ability to work under emotionally charged conditions. The guys who shoot war zones, famines, conflicts of any kind, spot news, championships and the like have a whole different set of internal tools than those who shoot subjects that aren’t likely to take a swing at you either physically or in an emotional sence. No offense intended but it’s true. When everyone around you is freaking out and you have to make telling photos you have to be cool. People often say that the act of viewing through a lens/viewfinder emotionally distances yourself from the activity you are photographing. That is true to a degree but only to a certain extent. The more emotionally connected you are to the subject the harder it is to not be emotionally effected by what you see.
In the line of work I’ve been shot at, tear gassed, assulted, photographed the dead but still warm, photographed pure tragedy, photographed pure joy and triumph … all kinds of things that get you worked up. Yesterday morning brought a new one to the list. My best buddy Robert honored me by asking that I photograph the birth of his first children – twins no less. How could I refuse? Gee I dunno, I was planning on sleeping in that day … (Not!) Well due to circumstances his wife Cassie had to have a C-section and the medical staff was worried that either he or I would pass out or toss our breakfast. The sight of blood does tend to turn strong men into cold fish ya know? Anyhoo I was sure that I could handle it. No worries, I’m a professional!
Since Robert is both a photographer and fellow oddball he made it clear to "get the Alien emerging shot – just like in the movie!" Well this is Iver, the boy, just after he popped out. I got the total "alien" shot of Hayden the girl coming out but it’s pretty freaky lookin so I won’t put it up.
I will say that shooting the thing with a nice long lens to see around the doctors was very, uh, interesting. I could see E-V-E-R-Y-thing in all it’s medical detail. My mind was in autopilot as it tends to be when I’m working but in the back my emotional side was talking a mile a minute. "Oh wow! That’s seriously nasty. Uh-huh, I see … what an odd color for, yuck! Hmm, cubby little bugger (on and on the whole time).
I’ve believed that the only way to be a good photographer is to train yourself to handle all the mechanical operations in the back of your head and just let that happen automatically so that what is driving you is how you feel. When Robert nuzzled down an overhead shot was just natural. How to blind point the camera was automatic.
If you have been in an operating room before you find that they are rather small and there is always someone moving quickly about. So when Robert held the twins I had three nurses scurrying about and I had to position myself to get the shot, know where these other people were and
yet feel the moment.
I got lucky but knew what to do: Robert wasn’t able to document most of the birth stuff but still had his little vidcam. This is still available light but I actually put my camera on his shoulder to keep it steady for the 1/2 second exposure.
I must say that it was a pretty satisfying morning. Photographing a surgery is tough if not our right gross. Photographing a birth is emotional. Photographing the birth of your best bud’s first will mess you up. Luckily I can handle it. No, I loved it. The icky parts aside it was wonderful to be part of such a special moment. I’m glad that I’ve been trained to be able to handle the emotionally tough stuff and yet bring back storytelling images. I think that the term "objectivity" gets confused with "objectifying". To me being objective is being able to be balanced and professional even though you really don’t like the situation. If you objectify your subjects you can’t feel what they feel and the power of their emotions is lost to you and thus you can’t show their story.