I think one of my favorite things about being a photographer is being a fly on the wall in people’s lives or at certain events. My only problem is feeling like the biggest, loudest, most intrusive fly to ever exist. I understand that someone with a camera often makes people uneasy, especially in more tragic situations, and that knowledge tends to bother me while I’m shooting. There’s a balance between being a photojournalist and telling the story and understanding that you’re not what a person wants to see as they’re being loaded into an ambulance or watching their home burn to the ground.
A few weeks ago on a very cold night in Whiting, Indiana, I found myself standing at the police line of a building that had been in flames a few hours before. By the time I arrived, three fire trucks from the Hammond force, the Whiting force and the East Chicago force were all there taking care of the hot spots that were still popping up. Everything was covered in ice from the hoses. The street was dangerous and slick, the cars that sat at the side of the building were nearly encased, and the side of the building had become a shiny sheet of ice. I’d never shot anything like that before.
All of my work for the Ball State Daily News is of people, safe events, and sports. I don’t usually work in breaking news like accidents and fires. So, that night was full of mixed emotions. I was filled with adrenaline and excited to try my hand at photographing something a bit more difficult. I was extremely sad for the multiple families that lived in the complex. I was also ashamed for being there at all, feeling as though I was not welcome by anyone working to control the flames. I suppose I wasn’t. Feeling uncomfortable about making other people uncomfortable is something I’m battling as a photographer.
I also felt attachment to the building. I had seen it many times before. It was an old building and I found it beautiful. It had a dress shop downstairs that always had beautiful gowns on display that I would admire. It’s apart of my landscape back home and it will be missed.
My favorite photo from the night, featured at the top of this post, was a fleeting moment. I was actually shooting the firefighter only hoping for something that included the back of his helmet with the street sign and building in the background. I’m not entirely sure what made him turn around. Maybe it was me clicking away. Maybe he was surveying the crowd gathered around me. I guess I’ll never know. What I do know is that we were separated by a police line and as he walked away, I realized that I didn’t have his name. I’m going to consider it the top frustrating moment of 2013. I have plans to try and acquire his name, though. I’m going to go to the nearest fire station when I get home and ask if they can identify the firefighter in the photograph. I sincerely hope that they can.