Monday, August 03, 2009

Blue Therapy

I was in knots as I walked out of the office. So much on my mind. So much to process.

I looked up and saw a shade of blue sky that gave me an excuse. So for the next twenty minutes I walked around and thought only about blue. It was calming, for the time being.

Call it a barley started career crisis, or an idealist reality check or a size 10 to the netherlands. Whatever you want to call it, I'm at a crossroads.

Somewhere in the mind scape, I'm standing on an x with my thumb to the void. On one side, the desire. On the other, the reality. In the middle I feel like I'm failing.

I had one of those moments today, when you get shook up and start to re-examine.

There was a time when I thought I had the answers. Just work hard and do good. I thought all I had to do was shine a light on the s*** and the rest would take care of itself.

When I first picked up a camera I didn't take it to seriously, I just tried to have fun. The freedom of doing whatever I wanted was freeing. And it seemed I had a knack for it, at least my teacher thought so. "You have the upside down eye," my teacher Mr. Frankie once told me. That's what he called it when you see things different.

Fast forward and I'm here now. Working at a paper, doing something that a 16-year-old me could never imagine in his/my wildest dreams.

And at that age, you have some wild dreams.

Along they way I saw the power of the image. I discovered Gordon Parks, Eugene Richards, Alex Webb, Dorothea Lange, Raghubir Singh, William Eugene Smith and countless others that escape my sleep deprived mind at this hour,and I saw the potential of photography to effect change. To shine a light.

Coming from where I come from, it wasn't the roughest part of town, but it was only a short two min drive from it. If you can think of it, it was happening out there.

It's gotten better since those days, mostly thanks to the tech boom that brought folks with cash into the poor side of town, which lead to community organizations, which lead to councilmen and women looking to please said organizations which lead to clean-ups, a new park, stop signs, speed bumps, graffiti clean-up and what have you.

But that's now, way back when it was a different story. Now I'm not saying it was the worst of the worst, but we saw things and dealt with things that kids shouldn't have to. Hell adults shouldn't have to either. Drugs, gangs, stabbings, graffiti, police copters shining a light in your back yard, etc. etc.

A part of me thought that when I picked up a camera maybe I'd be able to be a voice for this community that never had one. At least not until the Mercedes-leasing, home expanding, political-organizing, girl-scouting crowd moved in to the neighborhood.

Maybe I'd be able to do something that no one was able to do for me and my friends.

But lately I don't know.

I feel like I'm failing to do what I set out to do. I keep visiting crime scenes, I keep talking to concerned citizens, I keep trying to bring attention to a problem... and today I comforted an elderly couple as I told them a man they knew had been shoot and killed.

Days like today... they make you think.

There's something that happens you're behind the camera. Everything melts away and the world becomes reduced to a 24x36mm window.

Some of the war photogs describe it as tunnel vision. It's only happened to me once, but it's real. I was caught in the middle of a quickly escalating riot in downtown San Jose a couple years ago over Mardi Gras. It wasn't until I looked down and saw I'd walked down a block and left a trail of bloody footprints, that it hit me.

It's like the opening scene from Saving Private Ryan when the soldiers go in and out of the water. Above the water, the sounds of war and total chaos. Below, there is silence, stillness, solitude and a sense of calm.

Tonight I needed it. I needed the tunnel vision. The calm.

The pics above, they come from the tunnel vision.

I wonder still if anything we do makes a difference. "You do it because you love it, there's no money in it so you have to," I joke with people still.

On days like today I tell myself that what we do matters.

That it makes a difference.

But I wonder.

I wonder if it even matters what we do. Are we like the tree in the woods that feel over? Are we just pissing in the wind? Does anyone even care?

The press has power. I'm in a place where I can do something and I try. But nothing changes.

I feel like I'm failing. The reason I got into this business is because I felt like I could make a difference. I thought I brought a unique background to the job, something that added to the discussion.

Maybe I'm just naive.

Right about now you're probably wondering what happened, or more likely you've stopped reading like 20 graphs ago. If you're still here, you're probably getting pretty upset that I haven't told you... well... anything really.

What happened isn't the point. It's what isn't happening.

(But I'll meet you half way. If you're a decent journalist and your curiosity is too strong, a simple search on the the Express-News site should quench your thirst.)

So at this point, let me turn it over to you. If you have this job and you have the medium of the press and you have the desire, if you have all that, let me ask you now... what would you do?

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