If you include internships and college experience, I’ve been in this business for only a few years. But I learned early on about the strange cocktail of emotions that floods your brain as you leave what you thought was going to be a less-than-average assignment with better-than-average-assignment pictures.
The first time I experienced this was in Atlanta. It was for a story about unemployment, and the reporter wrote in the assignment that I should just hang out with this unemployed man at his family’s home and see what happened. Expectations were low.
But it was the first time I was a fly-on-the-wall in someone else’s home at an important time in his/her life. It was the first time I spent substantial time with anyone in a “nothing’s really happening” setting. And it was the first time that — as I was driving out of the neighborhood and phoning the reporter that it had actually gone well and I’d made good pictures — I heard someone (the reporter) say, “Wow. Sounds like you made chicken salad out of chicken shit.”
It might seem callous to think of an assignment as “chicken shit.” But as any journalist knows, there are assignments that seem completely awesome on paper, and others that seem just ehh. The key is to have an open mind and make the best pictures you possibly can, no matter the circumstances. Still, when a recent assignment in a Gettysburg-area nursing home seemed very ehh on paper, I was surprised by the pictures I was able to make and humbled by the openness of a man despite his less-than-ideal situation.
A carjacking. Paralysis from the waist down. Drug charges that were later dropped. Transferal to a nursing home far from home. Separation from loved ones. The disposal of beloved pets. Illiteracy.
Reporter Emily did a fantastic job reporting and writing Raymond Hernandez’s story, which is so complicated and strange that, when I tried to describe it to my boyfriend, he incredulously said it sounded like something out of a movie. Emily and I returned the next week, when Raymond’s housemate and her grandson came to visit.
And this is the photo that ran main on the front page of the Sunday paper:
Be sure to read Emily’s article for much more information about Hernandez’s story.