Still, infinite moments

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Though my time at the Daily Reporter has been brief, I've had a few of those moments that we journalists hope for in a story. That is to say, there have been a handful of moments when my cheek is pressed against the back of my single lens reflex camera, my left eye is squinted shut and I can see in my mind's eye that the exact composition I want is about to form right in front of me. It's in these moments that time truly does seem to stand still as you slowly, yet firmly, press that shutter button, hear the satisfying clunk of the mechanism and know that you captured what you were seeking.

So far, all of those moments for me have been cheerful ones, like the retirement of a fire chief, a family receiving a donation from the Shayla Bee Fund, or a youngster catching some air in a skating competition. I have never experienced that seemingly infinite pause when covering a fire or a traffic accident. Frankly, I hope I never do. I think that would indicate that I had become calloused as a person.

However, sometimes the job calls for tragic moments to be captured as well. This week I saw the photo that AP photographer Burhan Ozbilici won this year's World Press Photo competition with. Ozbilici had reportedly been on a somewhat routine assignment at an art gallery in Ankara. Little did he know that the gallery would be the setting for the assassination of Russian Ambassador Andrei Karlov.

I remember the headlines at the time. Most of the photos I saw were of a somewhat obscured Karlov on the gallery floor. What Ozbilici was able to capture was the assassin himself, with a pistol in one hand and the other pointing toward the sky. To his credit, Ozbilic was quoted as saying that he realized he could be shot and killed but realized that, even if he died, he could document what happened that day.

Somehow I think that is expressed in the photo. Gallery spaces are typically neutral colors so they don't detract from the artwork being displayed. In some respects, that setting led to a photo in which one can only focus on the intensity of the situation. There is so much neutral space in that photo that the viewer can't help but feel drawn into the scene and, in doing so, feel the terror of being present in that place and time. Keep in mind, he likely didn't have time to check his camera settings and adjust his angles over the course of several exposures. This is a likely a quickly framed snap shot. Yet, in that perhaps panicked snap, the truth of the situation was captured forever.

In many ways, I think the truth is what makes such photos great. The selection committee debated whether awarding Ozbilici would essentially encourage such violent acts. It was a difficult decision, no doubt. Ultimately, I think the truth that this photo conveyed was what earned him the award. It's the reason that we can all recall photos like "Migrant Mother" or the footage of Tiananmen Square. It's not an image memory but it is truthful.

Perhaps we realize on some level that what is worth remembering is not always cheerful and what is cheerful is not always worth remembering.

In part, that is why some of us scribble in our notebooks and hoist our cameras over our necks. We aim to preserve truth for the future as they align and converge for the lens. If only for a fraction of a second in those still, infinite moments.