There was a time when journalism was romantic. Jet setting, sophisticated, cosmopolitan … the days of Robert Capa, W. Eugene Smith, Ernie Pyle and Edward R. Murrow. I picture myself wearing a somewhat Indiana Jones-ish style outfit, sipping rum in a bar in Havana while reporting on the rise of Fidel Castro. Or maybe standing on a rooftop, a cigarette sticking out of my mouth as I photograph the first wave of the German Luftwaffe.
This is one of the reasons that journalism so enthralled me in college. Studying these old badasses made journalism seem like a most exciting undertaking. Add the fact that my images could end up in history books and you can see the appeal.
It was always hard for me starting out in the business to imagine a time when Robert Capa was assigned to cover the local county fair, or a ground breaking ceremony, or any other number of events that 99 percent of photojournalists are required to cover and find utterly mundane and ridiculous. Unfortunately, working for a newspaper, especially a small hyper-local publication, covering these assignments are a necessary evil.
As a reporter or a photographer working in a small community, you are charged with recording the history of your community. These small events may seem mundane and boring, but the people in your community want to read about them. They want to see photos of their smiling children and family. They eat it up. The annual little league tournament … forget about it. The papers will fly off the racks.
These assignments make up the fabric of the community. Daily life in a small community can seem ordinary, but that does not mean that the photos recording them have to be ordinary. There have been times when I’ve walked into an assignment feeling all kinds of indifference, only to walk out with an amazing photograph.
This is not always the norm, but it is just as easy to walk into a situation that you feel assured will result in a spectacular photograph, only find yourself searching frantically for a single good image. Constantly keeping a positive attitude in a cynical newsroom is virtually impossible, but keeping an open mind to the possibility of creating a keeper out of what feels like a throw-away situation is a bit more manageable.
I can’t say that every boring assignment will result in a wonderful photograph, or that you won’t fall into the trap of making a photographic cliche, but you may just surprise yourself and your editors. If you have photographed an event before, don’t make the same photograph you made the previous year. Try looking as a situation differently. Get lower, get higher, change your perspective and observe before you even click the shutter. You might just be updating your portfolio.