Thursday, January 28, 2010

Haiti and the desire to know

I can only imagine what Haiti must be like right now in the midst of overwhelming devastation. Fortunately, as I sit here comfortably in my office, brave journalists have picked up cameras, computers, pens and notebooks and headed into harm's way in Haiti so we can know what's going on there.

I admire these brave men and women and the work they do. It's not easy to jump into a situation like this, when people's lives have been destroyed in an instant, and take pictures. The images coming from Haiti are extraordinary, not just from a journalistic point of view, but from a technology point of view.

As you can probably imagine, the majority of the country has been leveled. There is no going to the local library to plug in your computer and use the Wi-fi to transmit. Generators and satellite phones are the modern tools of the trade in a situation like this. A video of an Associated Press reporter's impressions on arriving in Haiti is here.

Solving problems isn't new to a photojournalist. For decades, solving the problem of getting news out of inaccessible areas has been one of the hallmarks of a good journalist. Undoubtedly, technology has made solving that problem a little easier (imagine trying to get a roll of film developed in Haiti right now!).

A major discussion in journalism circles right now is the use of "citizen journalists." It's a term I don't like, because in a way we are all citizen journalists, but the concept is accurate: An average person, not trained to be a journalist in any way, sees something happen, records it in some way, and tells as many people as possible. Is information gathered in this way any less valid than what is gathered by a professional journalist?

In the context of the disaster in Haiti, I would say the answer is "no." Some of the first photos from the disaster area were pictures taken by cell phone cameras from people who were there and posted on Twitter before Internet services went down. Of course, the work professional journalists are doing right now to bring accurate information to us is the reason why I choose to seek out the work of those professionals when gathering information.

Check out some of the work Damon Winter of the New York Times (a touching example is here), Chuck Liddy of the Charlotte News and Observer, and the Associated Press' Gerald Herbert (who shot the photo above) have done over the last two weeks. Their work is the reason we all need professional photojournalists seeking images of newsworthy events.

Monday, January 4, 2010

I'm not much of a fan of winter. I don't mind dealing with it when winter conditions are "normal", especially when I'm out there on my own terms, say, hunting or fishing.

But it's another matter entirely when you've got to be out there in sub-zero conditions we're now experiencing, regardless of whether one's working or playing. In any case, mom had good advice: wear a warm hat, gloves, and boots.

Taking photographs outside when it's this cold is a lot of work and takes some special precautions. Naturally, wearing gloves makes it hard to make camera adjustments. I wear glasses so dealing with frost on them can be a pain.

And likewise, condensation from going from a cold car to a warm building is always a possibility so on the coldest days, I bring my gear inside. (And keep it in the bag so that the condensation occurs on that instead of the lenses or cameras).

In the old days of film, the watchword was slow down. Film got brittle in very cold temperatures, requiring that we rewind our film back very carefully. And just like with our cars, batteries lost power. Today's digital cameras don't use film and the lithium batteries remain remarkably functional in cold weather. Still, I noticed that the spec sheets for the lithium batteries we use warn against using them below 32 degrees F and 104 degrees F. I'm guessing who ever designed the batteries never lived in Minnesota during January.

Fortunately, old habits die hard, and I still find myself slipping my camera inside my parka and next to my body when I'm outside shooting photographs for extended periods on days like today to keep the batteries strong.