Memoirs of a Photog


CLICK! POP! CHUNCK-UHN! Photography...It sounded so exciting. 'Reporter' also had a somewhat romantic ring to it--Woodward and Bernstein, Pentagon papers, Tom Wolfe, Americana. But 'photog' is even better. Like a reporter, you get a press pass complete with a photo, an official looking masthead, and the Crimson president's signature on it (even if the signature was forged by the managing editor, as mine is). You get to go to all the same newsworthy events and you don't even have to talk to anyone. Just chunck-ubn, chunck-ubn, chunck-ubn. When it's all over, you don't have to write anything. We're talking a life of pure adrenaline and excitement, capturing significant moments (about 125th of a second in length) along the way.

These were my thoughts three years ago when I comped Crimson photography. Who needs a photography class, I thought. What better opportunity than a daily newspaper to learn one's trade, where you can get right down into the trenches and capture real life. Action! Drama! Terror! Pathos! Do for the Crimson what Cartier-Bresson did for the world of documentary photography. A Pulitzer by Senior year? Not impossible. Just keep those eyes open.

Newspaper photography turned out to be less eventful than I had anticipated. And as far as Pulitzer prize-winning photographs--can you say "mug shot"? "Hey Jamie, we need a mug of Mr. Embezzler by six o'clock. "When I tried to make dramatic shots with interesting framing and intricate relationships between the subject and its environment, the editor would just crop it into a square. No riding in a helicopter to shoot rioting students, no breaking into buildings to shoot incriminating documents linking the Harvard administration to organized crime and not one swimsuit assignment. Instead there were lots of IOP speakers, "weather pics" and portraits, punctuated by the occasional Knitting Society shot.

But that's not why the editors of FM asked me to reminisce about my years as a photog. They wanted me to feed the myth. They wanted tales of Glamour, Thrills,and Drama. I discovered that if I scraped together every tidbit of my photographic experiences, spiced them up with a few embellishments, then stole a few stories of photogs who have since graduated and put them down all in one story, I could make my Crimson career sound remotely interesting. So I did my best to deliver.

The Reclusive Dean: I got a call one day from (then) reporter Steve E. Frank '95 (former Ed Chair), requesting my presence on a stakeout. Stakeout? Like Richard Dreyfus/Emilio Estevez-watching-and-taking pictures-of-beautiful-women-stakeout? Uh, no. This would be a get-up-really-early-and-wait-for-the-dean-of-the-b usiness-school-to-show-up-in-his-office-stakeout. The guy wouldn't talk to the Crimson (said he was busy until the fall of the next year) so there we were lurking around his office. The dean's first strategy was to pretend there were no such things as Crimson reporters or photographers. "Hi Dean McArthur, I'm Steve Frank from the Harvard Crimson and I was wondering..." SLAM, went the Dean's door. I had to go to class, but Steve waited diligently for two hours at which time the Dean switched strategies (perhaps after consulting his consultants). Walking into the waiting room with his hand outstretched, he said, "Hi Mr. Frank, want to go to lunch?" They've been buddies ever since. I just found out that Steve got a holiday note from the guy. Of course the Dean doesn't know I exist.

The Shoot-out in the Square:No, not the recent Reservoir Dogs, pump-20-rounds-through-the-window-of-a-car episode of two weeks ago. Late one night my sophomore year the police radio started buzzing-SHOOT-OUT IN THE SQUARE. Stop the presses! (Actually they weren't running, but we had to change the whole layout of the paper). I grabbed my camera and took pictures of the smashed Bay Bank window and another of a police officer pointing to a bullet lodged in a mailbox. I was especially impressed by the officers' respect for jurisdiction as they waited for the Postal Service police to come get the mailbox before prying out the bullet.

Stakeout II: Joe Matthews '95 (former managing editor) called me for a special assignment: Staking out the subject of his article at the home of the subject's mistress. I was supposed to get shots of him entering the house at three in the morning. I was a little concerned, not only because there was very little light and I was using a 300mm lens, but also because our (married) subject was a police officer and presumably heavily armed. I didn't know how he would take the idea of me pointing a long metal object at him in the middle of the night. Unfortunately for Joe and my anecdote (but fortunately for my health), our Rambo/Romeo didn't show up that night.

Mr. President: The first time I tried to photograph Clinton was at a campaign really in Boston. I got there half an hour early but discovered that you have to arrive at least two hours early to these things to even hope to get a spot on the photo platform. I managed to get a fuzzy image of his nose through a pane glass window.

My next chance was at the JFK Library and this time I had my own Clinton press pass. I figured I'd have total access to the man. Sure, me and the 5000 other photographers, news crews, reporters and secret service. To top it off, my press pass didn't even let me inside. I had to wait outside with the rest of the media horde and wait for him to arrive. All the Kennedys came out to meet him (there were more of them than of us) and I started snapping away. I saw my classmate Karena Gore '95 in the middle of the reception line and thought I'd have the perfect Harvard angle for my shot. But there were so many damn Kennedys that I ran out of film by the time he got to her. It was too bad, because he stopped when he saw her, gave her a kiss and chatted for a while.

It was at about this time that I decided it would be a lot more fun to be the president (or even the vice-president's daughter) than one of these faceless finger-depressors waiting to catch a glimpse of him. This description of my career must sound fascinating, I know, but believe me, it's not always, so glamorous. For one thing, you always have to stand outside with a bunch of overeager colleagues waiting for someone famous to turn their head and smile at you. And they never invite you to come in out of the cold. Much better to become famous yourself so you can go inside and eat the hors d'oeuvres.