Photo Story: Good Work in the Face of Tragedy
In the wake of Septembers floods, I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on some of the tragedies that I’ve covered as a photojournalist. Some, like the Colorado floods or the tornado that ripped through Windsor in May of 2008, affected whole communities. But, more often than not, the tragedies happened to one person or a family in a community. It’s times like these that community newspapers can do their best work.
Early on in my career I felt extremely uneasy entering a situation in which someone lost their home to a fire or were just in a terrible accident. The uneasiness never goes away but I learned not to let it bother me as I go about my job. And, on occasion, the uneasiness has helped me do my job better. Instead of going in with cameras blazing, I have learned to take time to read the scene and read body language of the people I’m photographing. In this case, I watched Donna Calvert as she talked with officials after the roof of her home was ripped off by a microburst during a wind storm. I respectfully let her go about her business as I did mine. I moved in closer as I worked, making eye contact and even smiling to her as I made photographs. What I came away with was a photo that tells a story.
In the photo, it’s immediately obvious that Donna Calvert’s home was nearly destroyed by something. If the roof hanging off of her home in the background and the police tape isn’t a dead giveaway, the insulation in the trees speaks volumes. My eye moves next to Donna Calvert’s body language. While I know she isn’t praying, the her hands evoke that thought and it is reinforced with the word Cross in the bottom, left corner. Certainly, I’m reading some of this into the photo from my life experience and perspective, but even without those visual clues pointing to my observations, the photo has impact. Anyone who has endured extreme weather can put themselves in Donna Calvert’s shoes. I could feel for her back then, but now, after the floods ravaged the community I call home, I have a more intimate understanding of what it means to have a home threatened by the violent throes of Nature. As Eric documented the flooding just a few streets away from his home, I was vacuuming out a window well that backed up and overflowed into my basement.
My story was nowhere as dramatic as Donna Calvert’s but, as I look back to my newspaper days, I see why the community was so eager to help following coverage such as this. And, important as it is, newspapers continue their downward spiral. Some community papers are holding on but as they decline, I’m not sure who will step in to tell the stories of the Donna Calverts in these communities.