We Need Murrow

    Ever heard of Edward R. Murrow? He’s a legend in journalism who gained notoriety reporting out of London during the German Blitz in World War II.   He had a habit of taking radio microphones to the tops of buildings to record the sounds of bombs dropping. As the war ended, Murrow was also one of the first to cover the liberation of German concentration camps. When he got back to the states, Murrow was an avid proponent of television as a tool with great potential for education, and was a strong proponent for non-profit news programs. Today, he’s largely remembered for his direct opposition of Senator Joseph McCarthy during the Red Scare.

    For those who don’t know, the Red Scare was nation-wide paranoia of alleged Communist infiltration and subversion by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Americans were told Soviet agents could be lurking everywhere, undercover as your neighbors, co workers, government employees, and even family members. Everyone was a threat, and it was your responsibility as a citizen to report any and all “suspicious activity” because the fate of the free world depended on it.

    Wisconsin senator Joseph McCarthy was the face of this paranoia and it bolstered his career by making wild, largely unsupported accusations of communists within the government and the entertainment industry. Those who opposed his aggressive methods were usually labelled as communists themselves, largely silencing opposition and often ruining lives in the process.

    Murrow saw it as his duty as a journalist to counter the senator’s campaign of fear. Along with his team of reporters, Murrow assembled a series of broadcasts to expose the belligerent, hypocritical nature of McCarthy’s witch hunts.

 

 

I find those old reels as relevant now as they ever were. The current political climate is the most sinister, brutal, and ugly I have ever known. Truth and integrity don’t seem to apply anymore in an age of “alternative” facts.

I feel that, right now, we need Murrow more than ever. But we don’t have Murrow. He passed away decades before I was even born. He never got to see a world where barriers to publishing are almost non-existent and content can be instantly delivered to devices the public can carry in their pockets. We can never know how he would have reacted in the face of the Far-Right wave that has swept into Washington. We cannot say how he would have reacted to the ever-increasing commodification of news. We will never know how he would have challenged a political regime to which objective facts are completely meaningless, and complete fabrication is a daily occurrence.

All any of us can do is try to learn from Murrow’s legacy. He taught us that knowledge and friendship cannot be restricted by border walls. He charged that it is one’s duty as a citizen to be informed.   Murrow taught us that hyperbole is a tool of fear-mongering and holds no place in reporting, and every legitimate reporter must use the power of journalism in the defense of truth and liberty.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t afraid of the days to come. For all of my life, I had liked to imagine I would be able to stand in defiance of oppression. It was an easy fantasy to maintain, for I quietly believed previous generations had left no dragons to slay. I suspect it’s that complacency that has allowed those beasts to return—not at our gates, but in our walls. All I can do, all any of us can do, is use what tools we have to fight for what we know is right.

What comes now will not be easy or glamorous, but it will be necessary. We are going to have to stay vigilant on the local stages of government as well as the national, calling out misuse of power and standing against it. That means seeking out news beyond one’s social media feed, corroborating information, being in touch with government, protesting, and above all, voting.

We can take some comfort knowing history favors progress and those who abuse power may have that power stripped from them. We all have a long fight ahead of us, but it is one I believe we can win.

 

 

Ducks On The Winter River

As a photographer, I’m always looking out for new locations, subjects, and experiences to shoot. However, I find that I am compelled to periodically return to a handful of subjects. As anyone following me will know, I the Cuyahoga River is a frequent subject on this site. I feel like I should have more of a problem with that than I do.

The riverfront is one of my absolute favorite places to walk, and it’s never the same twice. The sounds of the animals, the current of the river, the personalities of the people I pass on the path, the smell of the trees and soil, all meld to create what feels like a living, thriving, changing organism.

I have watched ducklings grow up and start families of their own. I witnessed trees older than the path beneath my feet die and be swept away by the raging waters of the spring thaw. I have seen layers of graffiti showed me confessions of love, battles against authority, and art that could not be contained by canvas.

So, I ask my fellow artists, if any of you have had the privilege of watching an environment grow. If you have, I would love to hear about it. If not, I encourage you, all of you, to take the time to understand the world around you; not just watch, but feel it. You’ll be surprised by what you’ll discover.

 

Mrs. Gilley’s Garden

20130816_132853_1-2Those who follow this site know it’s fairly common for me to post photos that I take while I’m landscaping. Some of the best shots, including the butterfly photo with this post, come from the yard of 95-year-old Mrs. Gilley.  It hurts me to say that, in the eight years that I have been working for Mrs. Gilley, I have watched old slowly degrade both mentally and physically.

When I first met her, Mrs. Gilley was kind, intelligent, discerning, and completely unflappable. Even in her late 80s, barely a day went by I couldn’t see Mrs. Gilley in her floppy sun hat and floral work gloves tending to the various gardens plots in her expansive yard. However; as the years went on, I watched her begin to slip. It started when she was able to do less and less of her own gardening. It became more and more common for my grandparents, who live next door to her, to see her tumbling down the hill in her yard. Eventually, she couldn’t even stand up from her kitchen table without taking a fall. At the same time, I watched as she had greater difficultly remembering things, had trouble maintaining conversation, and even forgot what was going on around her.

Anyone who has had this happen to a loved one can tell you how much it hurts to watch this. It feels like watching the person you care about being slowly drained away until there is nothing left. I had actually seen it twice before; first with my step grandmother, then my paternal grandmother. Seeing it again was almost too much for me. As ashamed as I am to admit it, there were times I made up excuses not to have to go in and talk to her. I assumed she would be napping, tell myself that I had other work to do, or that she was visiting with family. I knew it wasn’t the right thing to do, I just couldn’t stand to watch as she broke down. I couldn’t see that again.

Yesterday though, one of her caretakers came out to get me after I had finished mowing her lawn. As I went into the house, I couldn’t escape the quiet dread that was creeping up in the back of my mind. It was almost as if I didn’t see her as she was now, if I didn’t acknowledge it, she could still be that lively person she always was, even if it was just how I remembered her.

The caretaker said that Mrs. Gilley wanted to thank me for all the work I had been doing. When the caretaker excused herself to get cleaned up, Mrs. Gilley and I were left alone. What followed were slow minutes of silence. My mind just kept flashing back to how powerless I was to help my grandmothers before, and how powerless I felt now. I tried to make small talk, ask her easy questions just to break the silence. She gave short answers before asking me about Karen. “Tell me about your fiancé,” she requested in a slow, labored voice.  I told her that she had already met Karen on a few occasions before, that the wedding was next year (not the coming weekend, which she kept thinking it was), about what the two of us were doing for work, and about the children she babysits. Minutes after I had answered, she looked at me and said in the same tone as before, “Tell me about your fiancé.”

It looked as though she hadn’t been able to retain any of what I had just said. The realization only made me feel all the more hopeless. Instead, I tried to shift the conversation more toward what she had been doing. I tried to coax as much as I could from her about her family, and how she had been getting along with the caretakers. It was all I could think of to engage with her.   

“You’re listening, but you aren’t talking,” Mrs. Gilley eventually scolded.  My stomach dropped with guilt. I had no idea what to say. On some level, I had to actively remind myself that the person I cared about was still in there. Of course, that effort only made me feel worse, and it became more difficult to think of something to say. Then I remembered, I had taken photos of the butterflies in her garden earlier that day. I got up and took out my phone.  I began flipping through the garden photos. “It’s beautiful!” she would exclaim every time I stopped on a particular photo. I slowly started to see a smile cross her face.  As I went further through my digital photo album, I started to show her other wildlife photos, shots of Karen, the kids she babysits, and even my cat. She loved them all.

And just like that, even if it was just in a small way, Mrs. Gilley was back. Some of the light had returned to her eyes, and her voice had more enthusiasm than I had heard in months. She was even commenting on certain photos, and it let us actually converse more than we had in weeks. As I watched her smile, the conversation just became easier, more natural. Time flew by, and before I knew it, I needed to go meet Karen. After a quick hug, I left feeling like I had made real progress for the both of us. 

Still, I can’t help but feel I’m being selfish somehow. Truth be told, I feel more than a little self gratifying in taking so much away after just sitting with her for 20 minutes, while Mrs. Gilley’s children do everything they can to take care of  her and the caretakers are giving her round-the-clock attention. After all of that, my gesture feels like nothing.

Now that I’ve found a very real way to reach her, I plan on doing everything I can to make up for the time I lost. I started putting together little albums on my phone to show her the next time I go see her. I’d like to even go a step further and make her some nice prints of her garden if I could put together the money. At this point, that gesture is the least I can do. It’s a small contribution, but it’s as good a place as any to start. I still beat myself up about not being able to do more for my grandmother and step grandmother, but there’s a chance that I may be able to make up for some of that here. I just need to remember that no matter how far gone she may seem, I may still be able to help if I just find the right way to reach her.

 

Karen was nice enough to come in with me when I visited Mrs. Gilley this week and snapped a few photos on her cell.

Karen was nice enough to come in with me when I visited Mrs. Gilley this week and snapped a few photos on her cell.

 

 

Book Review: 25 Lessons I’ve Learned about (Photography) Life by Lorenzo DomÍnguez

memoir_23784A big part of building a personal blog is having a platform to improve my writing abilities. With that in mind, I had high hopes for 25 Lessons I’ve Learned about (Photography) Life by Lorenzo DomÍnguez as a tool to learn about writing on my favorite subject as I tossed it into my Amazon cart. Upon completing the book, I can safely say that the book did teach me a fair amount about writing on photography. Unfortunately, almost every lesson was an example of what not to do.

I got a nagging feeling that 25 Lessons wasn’t clicking for me early on, but I couldn’t put my finger on it until somewhere around the three-quarter mark. You know those tacky sunset-on-a-beach photos with the faux-inspirational print you see in psychologists’ offices, Christian book stores, and on the Facebook pages of your more optimistic friends? Well, 25 Lessons is essentially those posters in book form. Almost every line feels like it’s begging to become a featured blurb, or a quote on one of the aforementioned posters. Add that to DomÍnguez’s self admitted, perpetual optimism, and you have something that will make anyone without a shelf of Precious Moments figurines motion sick from continual eye-rolling.

What’s worse is that said ocular strain feels like it goes on far longer than it needs to. Even at 123 pages, the book feels padded.  The author repeats himself multiple times over different chapters to the point that about half the lessons just seem like tweaks on previous ones. Entire paragraphs are tangential at best, and nothing feels lost by simply skipping over many of them.  DomÍnguez even peppered the book with various quotes from other figures. Lines from the likes of Gandhi and Jonathan Swift that were tossed in among the text only remind us that others have said everything that DomÍnguez is saying, but better.  

                But, this is a book about photography, so there’s probably a strong visual presence that makes up for the shortcomings of the text, right? Well, no. For being a photographer, DomÍnguez doesn’t seem to grasp the concept of “show, don’t tell.” He goes to no small effort to explain the stories behind the photos he takes and even describe the photos themselves; he never includes those photos with the text to act as an illustration to the narrative. While there are photos, they’re just stuck at the end of chapters to create a break between the various lessons. Even those are relatively small, and placed sideways so that the reader must strain his neck and squint his eyes to make them out.

The thing is, I feel like all of the above sins could be forgiven if any of the advice to be found in 25 Lessons was something truly unique, original, or profound. I understand that DomÍnguez went through a great journey of personal discovery and wanted to share the lessons he learned by sharing the stories of how he learned them.  While that should work in theory, I find it doesn’t work very well in execution. See, he learned from those experiences because he was there to actually experience them. Trying to relay the entirety of the impact of the moment of epiphany along with all that preceded it means that the vast majority of the emotional weight will be lost. This can make people think, but I feel like it can’t replicate the impact of an experience that creates the kind of lesson that one carries for the remainder of his life.

At first, I thought my dislike of this book came from the fact that I am less of an artistic photographer than a photojournalist. As a rule, we journalism types tend to be more cynical and callous than our counterparts who view photography as a strictly artistic venture. While this book would most likely go over better with the illustration crowd, it’s still too poorly executed for me to recommend even to them. Give this one a pass.

Was I too harsh on 25 Lessons? Let me know what you think on the comments below. Also, share a book that you’ve wanted to break down.