While down in south Florida shooting the BCS Championship I had the awesome opportunity to talk to several members of the Miami Herald photo staff. I met Al Diaz a few years ago at the SEC Championship. In one of those small world kind of things, his wife’s mother lives in the little town in north Alabama where I live. We have become friends and stay in touch through social media. I also met his colleagues, Peter Andrew Bosch, Charlie Traynor, Joe Rimkus and editor David Walters who used to shoot for the Herald.
All those guys were telling me some incredible stories about chasing great stories all over the world. I had a nice long chat with Bosch who was telling me he has been a combat and conflict photographer most of his career and how he sat next to the fuel tank in an ancient Soviet era helicopter flying across the border from one of the ‘stan countries into Afghanistan with rpg’s zipping all around the chopper. Nice stuff. He must have been bored at BCS media day! Walters told me about his exploits back in the film days running around Central America for several weeks following the Pope and shooting in Panama during the American ouster of Noriega.
I began to feel like a very, very small time, provincial photographer who didn’t belong in that kind of company. My aspirations, even from my childhood, have always been to be the very best at whatever I am doing. I don’t mean I want to be the best in my town or my state. I just want to be the best, period. I know that sounds astoundingly arrogant. That is not how I mean it but I am sure that is how it comes out sometimes. I mean that I want to be the absolute best I can be.
I remember sitting in my car praying one day which means I was really just out there whining at God because I felt like I was trapped at a small newspaper in a small city and I could see no way out. At least, that was the way I saw it. God is pretty wise, perhaps you have heard that. After a while I quit whining and I felt a question rising up in my heart; why are you not acting like you work for the best newspaper in the world? That was a turning point in my career and since that day I have tried to work for The Decatur Daily with the same energy, vision and tenacity I would if I worked for the New York Times. It has made a huge difference in my career and I think it is safe to say that I have maximized my opportunity here.
Then I listened to all these stories and I began to question myself. I remember joking around with David Walters at the media party the night before the game and telling him I had to go get some rest so I could kick Al’s butt next night at the game. He just looked me in the eyes and said, “Good luck with that. I would put my four guys up against anyone in the country. They are that good.” I smiled and nodded and began to doubt myself. Was I really facing off with people I couldn’t shoot with, much less out shoot? I went back to the hotel questioning myself.
I sent my wife an email that night asking many of these same questions I am sharing with you and some I am not sharing with you. It took me several hours to work through the questions. Maybe I am not in their league. Maybe I will get my rear end kicked real good. Maybe I don’t belong on the sidelines with these guys. Maybe I am just a small-time, provincial photographer who really shouldn’t be shooting a BCS Championship. Maybe, maybe, maybe….maybe not.
Somewhere in the dark night I put all those questions to rest. I found my confidence deep inside, remembering a promise God gave me on another quiet night a few years ago. That promise is mine and I won’t tell you that one. Suffice it to say that, when I find myself in doubt, it is the kind of promise I can go back to and put my feet on and feel solid ground under me again. I found that place and I answered my doubts. The Bible has a couple of great verses that came to my mind. Ecclesiastes 9:10 says, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.” Ephesians 6:7 says “Work with enthusiasm, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.” One final verse which I remembered imperfectly from II Corinthians 10:12 says, “or we are not bold to class or compare ourselves with [a]some of those who commend themselves; but when they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding.”
What I was doing was trying to compare myself to men who have had both the privilege and the curse of working in some extremely adverse conditions; wars, natural disasters, starvation, and death in many forms. Those are situations I will seldom, if ever, encounter in my career especially if I spend my entire career in a community newspaper which seems likely enough. There is no wisdom in my comparing myself to someone who has had the opportunity through much adversity to excel in ways that I have not had. If you stop to think about how we define “great people” you will almost always be looking at someone who had to overcome major adversity to reach their mountaintop.
Could I have done the same thing if I were in the same circumstances? Could I have risen to the occasion and delivered amazing photographs like they did? Well, I would like to think I could but honestly, it is a question that has no answer. All I can do is make the most out of each opportunity that comes my way whether that opportunity is large or small. The answer to my question was a solution I have given you in the blog over and over again. Make the most out of each photo assignment. Don’t cheat, don’t take short cuts, don’t halfway do the job because you are only cheating yourself. The question that needs to be answered is what will I do with the opportunity in front of me right now.
I got up the next morning down in Florida and got my game face on early. It was hours before game time. I was traveling with our sports editor, Mark Edwards, and he must have thought I was nuts. I set my mind on performing to my utmost ability in the BCS Championship game. That was my opportunity. That was my chance to shoot on level ground with the best of the best. That was my opportunity to prove myself to myself. When the dust cleared and I had a chance to look around, I was fairly well pleased with the results. I didn’t get every picture but I got a bunch. I had a pretty pathetic post game but that stemmed from a single bad decision, one I will correct if the opportunity comes up again. Will I ever be the best photojournalist in the world? Highly, laughably, unlikely, but, BUT, I will approach every assignment with the idea that no one is going to out shoot me today. Is that arrogant? Don’t know, all I know is if I don’t go out every day with that mindset someone else will be eating my lunch and in this day and age of the newspaper world, that isn’t figurative language!
I have a selection of photos with this post that are simply some of my favorite pictures. I have no idea how to illustrate a post like this so I just pulled out some favorites. Some are personal, some were made through extreme adversity and some are just pretty but all of them have some meaning to me. Hope you enjoy them.