Thursday, July 2, 2009

Conspiracy Theory

Nick Ut carried his camera with him everywhere he went, everyday. It was his job.

Some of the most important moments in recent history have been made important by the fact that they were recorded on film and, these days, digitally.

The downside, of course, is that some of the most inane moments in the lives of so-called important people have been made unnecessarily historic by the same means.

But if you can look past Paris Hilton (and, let's face it, I am really only mentioning her here for SEO points), the vast amount of important stuff out there should bring any photographer or videographer to the same conclusion.

Never go anywhere without your camera. Ever!

Where would we be now without Abraham Zapruder, who brought his 8mm camera to Dealey Plaza, one November morning? More accurately, where would we be without the assistant who convinced him to run home and get the camera before going to watch the motorcade of the President? Truth be told, we'd be in a simpler world, albeit a less informed one.

Where would we have been without Ut Cong Huynh, aka Nick Ut, who snapped the shot of the girl, her clothing burned from her body by napalm, running from the attack? It is fair to say we might have spent more time in Vietnam, but for that shot.

Even when the shot is from an assignment, like the Denver photographers who shared the Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of the Hayman Fire a few years ago, most of the winners of that prize would admit that half of their recognition belongs to two simple facts. Beyond their skill as photographers and their ability to find the right framing, deal with the lighting and other logistical issues, they were a) there, and b) in possession of their camera while they were there.

To take a modern day example, where would we be if it weren't for the press photographers working throughout Iraq and Afghanistan during these conflicts, covering a multitude of stories and points of view for a free press?

Oh, my bad.

When I say "Civil Rights March", how many images go through your mind before you reach the ones of the firehoses being turned on the marchers?

What if, for argument's sake, a group of 1,000 protesters in Burma walked to the lake house prison of Aung San Suu Kyi and demanded her release, and that she be allowed to assume her rightfully won position of leadership? Imagine they are all carrying signs, and singing songs of peace, with no violent intention - just expressing their opinion.

Shots would be fired. The crowd would scatter. Several would die right there, although they knew that would happen, and were prepard for it when they agreed to march. Many of them would make it back home, although the hunt for them would continue for months and they might be taken, eventually. The ruling Junta would make sure nothing was said in the national press about the incident, and only a smattering of stories would reach our ears.

Now give me the same group of 1,000 brave people, and put digital cameras in every pair of hands. Now the ones who get away become exponentially more dangerous to the Junta. Although internet access is limited, it is not impossible to find, and we would have evidence that could not be forgotten or hushed away.

If you would control your world, observe it and record it. Like Abraham Zapruder, you never know when nostalgia will become evidence. The only thing that can defeat a conspiracy controlled by a handful of people is a conspiracy controlled by two handfuls of people. Digital photography has the power to make that conspiracy yours.

Yes. I know you live in Myrtle Beach and nothing newsworthy ever happens in Myrtle Beach, or Des Moines, or Dallas.

Oh, my bad.

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