05 May 2008

My First Ethics Lesson

Downtown Atlanta, 1975. Nikon F/TX400

It’s painful to look at this, but it was an important lesson on a bunch of different levels. I was 15 at the time, and really the first time out in a complex set of realities on my own. Sure, I had wandered around a Bluegrass festival and shot quaint pictures of Bill Monroe in Louisville and the like, but this was Downtown Atlanta. Big, foreign, and cold. Sure, when my uncle had his first post with the Ap in Detroit, I visited, went to the bureau, but I was never turned loose in downtown Detroit. It was an ugly place.

He was now a shooter and an editor in what was then a large hub for a number of states. I remember that some of his co-workers stowed their weapons in their lockers during work.

The long and the short of it is this: My uncle put a camera in my hand, and a wad of film, and said “good luck.” I came across these guys in the first day or so, and I thought I would try my luck. Before I could make any move, they asked me for money. I froze. I tried to think of what to do, and my brain just said, “give them a dollar and get it over with.” So I did. I had broken the cardinal rule dictating involvement with your subject. Secondly, you can see that I was tentative and scared to get close to them by the composition. The fellow on the right is unhappy. I don’t remember what he said or called me, but it wasn’t nice. That was the next to the last lesson of that day. The best was yet to come.

When that particular roll came out of the dryer, and the loupe was applied, the first thing I heard was, “you give them that dollar?”
My First Ethics Lesson
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