Monday, October 20, 2008


There's an old phrase in the news photography business "f-8 and be there." It's been attributed to Weegee (Arthur Fellig) in the late 1940's. Others have said the great Robert Capa said it. When I was a photojournalist, my boss would just say "be there."

Awe, the life of a news photographer. It's exciting — and boring; dangerous — and repetitive; happy times — and heart breaking at times. It's recording life — and death — for real. It's an art and it's a job. But mostly it's always observing, never participating.

And that is why I left it all behind a few years back. I became so detached from events by hiding behind a camera that even on my days off and at our own family events I could not bring myself to become involved in the activities. And now, for some dumb reason, I'm considering getting back into the biz and I'm not even sure why. I'm not even sure I still have the passion or the eye to be a photojournalist ...

... But once upon a time, my photos appeared in newspapers and magazines across the country. Chances are, if you looked at a newspaper or magazine in the 1990s you may have seen one of my photographs. More particular, a newspaper in the larger cities, such as Los Angeles, San Fransisco, Dallas, Miami or even USA Today. Floods, fires, murders and even two-headed snakes where my subjects. I specialized in disasters, but preferred fun, slice of life photos. But newspapers love disaster and that's what they assigned.

Below are just a few of my favorite photos I took over the years. These all have stories behind them. Some I make comments on, some speak for themselves. Some of my best photos, however, I no longer have copies of. They live only in my memories and in some morgue of some newspaper. Anyhow, here are the photos. These are actually photos of the photos — taken with a simple point-n-shoot — so the sharpness doesn't reflect the original images.

A two-headed snake found on a sidewalk downtown next to a gas station. After this image appeared in USA Today, Ripley's Believe It, Or Not! offered the guy a large sum of money for the snake, but the snake died before a deal could be worked out. At least that was the word we got at the paper.

What started out being a simple protest over a new fast-food restaurant quickly became physical between vegans and ranchers. I was using a very wide-angle lens so that punch was just inches away from hitting me.

Senior Olympics. This image is in focus in the original image, I used a hand-held point-n-shoot and a slow shutter speed to copyit for the blog.

The missing photos are the ones that have the best stories of course. Such as the time I was covering a hostage situation where a man claimed to have a bomb while holding his girlfriend and her child hostage in a house. Us newsies spent one cold October day and night watching police move in to our small community with armored vehicles and guns everywhere. We were all praying for the chance to get close enough to the house to get a photo of the action. After freezing all night standing around waiting, just before dawn, a cop came up to us photogs and said that the subject was willing to give himself up, but only if the media was present.

The cop warned us, however, that it could be a trap and that the subject might detonate "the bomb" once the media was outside the house. But we excitedly raced down to the house, lined up behind a rope strung out by the cops just outside the house and had our cameras cocked and ready. The TV guys turned on their camera lights to light up the scene. It was surreal to say the least.

The cops were all tucked in behind their riot shields and all of us journalists were standing there hiding behind our cameras. A hundred guns and 10 or so cameras all pointed at the little house in what was a quiet neighborhood just a few hours earlier.

We waited. Nothing. Minutes went by. One of the TV guys lost his nerve and decided to leave. We all chuckled as he ran off, but in reality he probably had more nerve (and a lot more common sense) than we did. Finally, the cop in charge used a megaphone and called out that the media was present. Nothing. We waited. And waited. The door opened and the woman, caring the child, ran out of the house. CLICK, CLICK CLICK ... the cameras fired. The cops tackled her and the kid and dragged them off to safety.

A few minutes passed but it seemed like an hour. The sun was starting to rise. I remember I was shaking so much I could hardly see through the camera. To this day I'm still not sure if it was from the cold or from nerves.

Then the door opened and the man stepped out onto the porch. The cameras fired again ... CLICK, CLICK CLICK ... the cameras' motor drives whined. He was holding something in one hand and a shotgun in the other. The police screamed at him to drop everything. CLICK, CLICK, CLICK ... He obeyed. They told him to get on the ground. He did. CLICK, CLICK, CLICK. Several cops ran over, jumped on him, hand-cuffed him, stood him up and led him away. CLICK, CLICK CLICK! And just like that, it was over.

After more than 16 hours of standing around, freezing, sleepy and hungry, we had gotten our shot. No bomb was found. We congratulated ourselves on job well done, but secretly knowing it could have gone bad real fast.

A slow news day and a relaxing Saturday morning.

The annual Pear Blossom Run in downtown Medford, Ore.

I never really liked this image and almost didn't turn it in to the sports department. But the sports reporter saw it and talked me into it. It eventually won an award for best sports photo. The reason I didn't like it was because you can't tell if they won or lost the championship. Are they happy or sad?

And then there was the time I was in the sights of a suicidal sniper and ended up being trapped in a state park with a dozen park visitors.

I had heard the call on my police scanner about a man with a rifle pointing it at passersby and possibly may be suicidal. I was in the area already so I headed to the state park where he was reported to be. I turned into the state park and smack in front of me was the dude sitting in his pick-up truck.

The only thing I could do was to keep driving and hope he didn't shoot. So I drove right past him and on into the park. After parking my car out of his sight I hiked back up to where I could see him from behind. I snapped off a couple of shots but then a park ranger came up and ordered me, along with everyone in the park to leave. Since the only way in or out was where the sniper was, we all had to leave our vehicles and hike out over a mountain to avoid possibly being shot. But at least I got photos from an angle that no other photog did. Sometimes my stupidity (and my luck) astounds me.

Probably one of my most published photos. It has run in numerous newspapers and magazines over the past dozen years and is still being used. It was recently used in Newsweek to illustrate nutrition for kids.

The firefighter in the background just exited the motor home seconds before it blew up. In the full photo the fire ball goes way up into the sky.

Shortly after taking this image we were nearly trapped by the forest fire and barely made it out. The next day a firefighter died in the same area after being trapped.

Sometimes we just tried to make art out of disaster.

Other times we just tried to capture the moment.

Why'd the chicken cross the road? Now you know.

Sometimes magic just happens.

Sometimes it breaks your heart.

So why do I want to get back into photojournalism? Being able to create an image that moves people. That brings out an emotion — laughter, tears, shock, or concern. Or to just brighten someones day with a warm fuzzy slice of life photo. That's an awesome feeling. I guess that might be one reason. Maybe I'm just an adrenaline junkie. Or, maybe, I'm just plain nuts ...


debbie said...

If the Shoe Fits You must wear It...

debbie said...

Super Great photos, extreme stories. Wow Randy. Scary exciting Holy knock my socks off batman!Incredible even. The most dangerous thing I get to do is Fire an occasional associate.

Karen said...

These photos sure bring back memories. Some good, some bad. I really like the one of Donavan with the hose. I sure loved that boy.
I remember being scared to death that something would happen to you on some of your photo shoots. I hated when they sent you to the Siskiyou pass to get photos of all the cars crashing because of all the snow and ice on the freeway. I thought they were so stupid to send you up there and risk you getting in a wreck also.
Hopefully they'll let you start taking more photos for the paper or even let you become a photographer for them if that's what you want to do.

LeAnn said...

Thats SO cool. I like you even better now.

Bruce said...

I have enjoyed photography in the past but not the action blood and guts type. Still I do want to produce some nice pictures and feature them on my blog. Maybe you should swim behind Bree for that shot of the "big black monster" swimming under her.

LeAnn said...

do you happen to have a kodak pony 135 laying around the house somewhere? Its like a 50's camera I think but Ive been reading other peeps blogs and they have really* really* really*cool fotos that look vintage. I know they sell them on ebay...hmmm...just checking.


What do you do when you don't have time to go out on location to do urban sketching? My time is very limited and I often don't have ...