The Documentary Life

People ask what type of photography I do. Sometimes I answer, “documentary work.”

People seem to be interested in this. The idea of this. But, I’m not sure how the reality, or thought of documentary work actually meets up with the nuts and bolts of actually doing it.

What I’m about to list is not a complaint, quite the contrary. This is what makes this work so fantastic, but it does come with a price.

So, the last twenty four hours of my life….

Caught in monsoon storm near midnight, run for cover but drenched, soaked, muddy, covered in bug bites.
Get stuck in car for one hour as flooding shuts down escape route.
Up at 5.
Drive for one hour.
Stumble on ultra-small rodeo, stop to shoot.
Shoot two rolls, make contacts for further shoots, including guy who chews 12 bags of tobacco per day.
Cow barfs up snot ball down my pants right before being sent out squeeze shoot.
Drop base plate on rock while reloading, bending it. Bend back with car key, keep shooting.
Back in car. Drive for one hour.
Stop horse racing track to shoot and scout location. Shoot one frame.
Back in car. Drive for one hour. Eat jerky and dried mango.
Stumble upon Mescalero Apache annual rodeo.
Stop and shoot. Light SUCKS. Can’t shoot anything.
Back in car. Drive for one hour.
Stop to shoot and pull info for upcoming shoot in August, BTK info center.
Back in car. Drive for one hour.
White Sands National Monument.
Shoot for three hours, while hiking through park, 100 degrees plus.
See guy with camel in distance.
Run over dunes to catch him, leaving water behind to save time and weight. Stupid.
Shoot two rolls.
Back in car. 4pm
Drive for 1000 miles.
Get caught in monsoon of epic proportion which closes interstate, forcing me off highway.
Get caught in dust storm forcing me off highway again.
Hit enormous black object in middle of freeway, going 75 miles per hour. Somehow manage to avoid ANY damage to car.
Begin to see things. I think.
Stop for truck stop coffee, getting stuck behind meth user paying for combination of gas and snacks with coins, making small piles on counter of gas station.

Arrive home 4 am.

23 hours of straight doc mayhem.

Up at 9 to begin client dealings.

Again, not a complaint. This is what, for me, it takes to do this work. I have limited time, limited resources, so you KNOW that at times, life is going to really suck, but it’s all self-inflicted. I could have stayed home. Waited. Waited until I had more time, resources, but chances are I would have never left.

And, what I left out was sleeping in the car, due to lack of hotels where I was, with windows up, in 90 degree nights, due to security concerns. Six homicides in last month in this area.

And in the end, what do I have? The last image. This tiny bag of film. That’s all. Nothing yet. No guarantees.

14 rolls total. 14. 504 clicks of the shutter, which on paper sounds like a lot. It isn’t. And what will I “get” from this?

MAYBE a few images. But how many will make the grade? One? Perhaps two? Yep, this is the reality.

What was so great about this was everything I just listed. Getting back into the field and making pictures. It had been a long time since I had done this, far, far too long, and I realized immediately how much of these skills I had lost. Atrophy. But, it came back, slowing but surely.

I had grand plans, but realized it was essential to do less to get more. Leica, 35mm, Tri-x. ONLY. Nothing more. Could have shot medium format color and shot “strangely” and compiled a huge body of work, but I knew in my heart that was only a short term remedy for what is really a lifetime sickness.

Waiting, watching and having the experience to know I can kid myself, or anyone else. That GREAT pictures are rare, and I have to be ready at all times, but also ready to accept the fact, that on this trip, or any other, I might not get anything. Honesty can be ego bruising and painful, but refreshing nonetheless.

So, as I sit here, thinking about processing this stuff, by hand, I am thinking of only one thing. When can I go back? When can I do this again?

2 responses to “The Documentary Life”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Sounds like a great trip. Mom is glad she was safe comfortable and securely bored at the cabin. Can't wait to see the picks.

  2. Larry D Hayden says:

    Can't wait to see the images and learn where you were at and what you were doing.

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