Saturday, November 28, 2015

In Praise of True Photographers

An MMU student taking photos for the Mount Mercy Times, a channel 9 videographer and a Metro Sports photographer. And me, but you can't see me. Photographers all in dark, MMU AD in white behind them.

These days, the existence of cell phones means that most people are always carrying a camera that can shoot both still images and video.

But, just as having a PC with Publisher on it doesn’t make you a graphic designer, neither does your iPhone make you a photographer.

I was thinking about that this on Saturday in the Hennessy Recreation Center at Mount Mercy University. The university is on Thanksgiving break now, which means few students are around, but the Mustangs had a men’s basketball game that afternoon.

So, I bicycled to campus to grab a newspaper camera from the closed library building (where the paper office is and to which I have a key) for a student to borrow.

And I stayed for half the game to shoot some images.

I don’t know if basketball was the original sport that I shot years ago with my Minolta 35 mm camera. I know that the Calumet at Muscatine Community College had a basketball team, but I don’t recall where they played (there was no gym on campus) nor whether I shot any images of their games (I was one of the editors of the student newspaper at MCC back in the day).

Anyway, I know that I shot some basketball games at Marycrest College, as well as some soccer. At the time, the longest lens I owned was a 135 telephoto—no change in focal length.

My favorite shot of over 120.
At the game this weekend, I had a much nicer camera, my current Nikon D3100. Yet, most of my photos aren’t any good. I shot over 120 images, and consider only a few of them passable. Some samples are on this blog post, a few more can be seen in a Facebook gallery.

These days, as traditional media contract, one endangered species is the news photographer. It’s too easy to give a reporter a camera and tell her to shoot her own images, or depend on the kindness of strangers and their many photo-taking devices.

But I think the really good news or sports photographer is a rare breed worth preserving.

In this day of YouTube and instant photos and videos, we’re awash in images. That doesn’t mean we’re awash in good journalistic images—ones that really tell a key part of the story, that communication the action and emotion of a key instant.

And that kind of image is not easy to capture. Granted, I wasn’t using a really good camera—while my Nikon is an SLR digital camera and came with a 70 to 200 mm zoom, neither the camera nor the lens are the best for this kind of photography.

I can’t blame my low “hit” ratio on the camera, however. I’m a decent amateur photographer, and in my newspaper days, my photo skills did serve me well—but I was never primarily a news photographer.

A metaphorical tip of my imaginary metaphysical hat to those who are news photographers—you preserve instances of history in a way that writers like me should respect and recognize for the artistry, difficulty and skill level that good sports or news photography requires.

A picture is worth a 1,000 words—but only if it’s in focus, well composed and dramatic. And that’s not easy.

I know not much is going on in this image, but I kind of like it anyway. Under Armour vs Nike. When I left, Under Armour was out-scoring Nike about 4 to 1.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

When Does the Media Turn Doctors into Santa Claus?

Some good news and not so good news from my media life this week:

A son-in-law was featured in an English newspaper because his earlier genetic research contributed to new cancer treatments. That’s good news.

Dr. Martin speaking Thursday. Her presentation was part of the fall Vietnam series at MMU.

A professor at Mount Mercy University reminded her audience that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is not Santa Claus, and that the answer to the old question posed in a 1960s anti-war folk song—“when we they ever learn?”—sadly, seems to be “not yet.”

Congratulations Dr. Matthew Moscou for the research you’re part of that makes the world a better place. However, it’s important to recall that Moscou isn’t a magician who waived his magic wand and came up with a new cancer treatment—but part of a community of dedicated scientists working quietly behind the scenes, slowly uncovering mysteries of the universe. Someone else applied the genetic knowledge Matt uncovered studying barley to cancer cells in humans.

A link to the story about Matt is at the end of this post.

And media don’t always report well on science, which is a problem. Our public support for science has not always been high, and we have a cultural distrust of intellectuals of all sorts, including scientists. That has clear and negative impacts on our political life, such as denying, and failing to talk intelligently, about big issues such as global warming.

Anyway, it was nice to see Dr. Matt in the news in a positive way. Shifting gears, Dr. Martin spoke at Mount Mercy Thursday of last week about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and a famous speech he gave in which he articulated his reasons for opposing the Vietnam War. Since King had benefited from  civil rights legislation pushed by President Johnson, that opposition was gutsy.

And King spoke of the folly of our involvement in no uncertain terms.

Dr. Martin speeaking.

King tends to be remembered today for the “I Have a Dream” speech and his language about a society where the color of skin does not matter. That message is sometimes co-opted today by people who argue against efforts to promote diversity, on the grounds that such efforts are not color blind.

I don’t want to get into that particular quagmire right now, partly because I’m no expert on the topic and partly because I’m personally conflicted. But certainly our modern use of King's words out of context do him and his cause no favors.

Final view of Dr. Martin.
I do want to note something Martin said. I don’t know which writer she was quoting, but she recalled that someone once said that today there tends to be a “Santa Claus-ification” of King—to remember his 1963 speech, and ignore some of the harder criticisms and more controversial positions he took beyond that speech.

King had courage. As Dr. Martin noted, his concerns about military policy and nonviolence should echo today.

And we in the media should be careful of our tendency to simplify stories in order to create more digestible narratives. King was not Santa Clause. Scientists aren’t magicians.

But Matt sure does look nice in his British lab outfit! See the story.