I was literally up to my ass in alligators not too long ago, on behalf of Kelby Training, attempting a video tutorial on location lighting in first, a swamp, and then later on a beach, in decidedly non-beach-like weather. Doing the Kelby videos is a lot of fun, and they have gradually (actually, more like, suddenly) amassed the greatest compendium of video learning and teaching on the planet about anything visual–Photoshop, lighting, digital photography, you name it. But this was a frustrating day, one of those location days where you barely find the corner, much less turn it. I’ve had many of these during the course of spinning the roulette wheel of photography for thirty years. On these days, which I still find eminently preferable to a predictable, safe, or even good day inside an office (do they exist?) a certain brand of patter bubbles out of me which, in some quarters, might be deemed profane. Offensive, even. Downright saucy!
Yeah, guilty as charged. I could blame my childhood, but that’s so Hollywood starlet. I could blame excessive use of pain killers, but I’m a photog, and that has its’ own special brand of pain, yet to be tamed by pharmaceuticals, so I actually don’t use those haze inducing pills, pleasant as they sound. (I would, actually, if I were regularly in an office and had to go to non-stop meetings. For those in that type of an unfortunate setting, I think any and all mood altering substances should be legalized. Think of it as an occupational version of medical marijuana.)
Basing my career in NY has definitely had something to do with it. (There I go, lamely blaming my environment.) But in a big city press room, having your own personal quiver of verbal arrows was essential to survival. I mean, without a customized, creatively ornate, almost baroque sense of the profane insult, you were defenseless out there on that ink stained field of battle. You had to get with the program, or get gone. I mean, when you work the copy rim with a bunch of dirty old men whose sole mission in life was to slip a seemingly benign headline with obscene overtones past the managing editor on a daily basis, you get the message real quick. I remember a news short coming in that was the story of an evidently extremely lonely soul who was arrested for assaulting, ahem, his neighbor’s cows. Seems the dairy farmer, seeing his charges act a bit out of sorts, tipped police to his suspicions about what was going on with Daisy and Buttercup out there in the barn, and they staked the joint out and arrested the dude in, as they said in the piece, “mid-assault.” The rather ordinary headline of “Sodomy Charged” on this story was subsequently changed to “Cowpoke Arrested.” I don’t think that head made the paper.
I was pretty timid when I started, but I was shocked into the swim of things quite early on. I remember working the international desk as a freshly minted copy kid, and watched when one of the editors, obviously hammered, cigarette drooping from his lip, saunter up to his station in the middle of the newsroom, unzip his fly, serenely urinate in the waist basket next to his desk, then sit down and edit the 2 Star. Then of course there was Zucci, in the art department, who would take all the bridal announcement pictures and airbrush in cleavage before they got printed in the paper. He would walk these black and whites around the newsroom, proudly displaying his artwork. “Poor girl,” he would say, “Only time in her life she gonna be in the paper and she got nuttin’ to show for it!” He fixed that, and I’m sure many a shocked, prospective groom would do a double take on the day of the nuptial announcement, wondering how his bride to be had all of sudden acquired an enormous set of hooters.
In photo, it got savage, at least on occasion. When your negs would go up on the screen for edit, guys would walk by, look, and inquire, “Whose shit is this?” This was nuanced commentary, mind you. I was touring a bunch of blue haired ladies through the darkroom once, and Bobby Hayes, one of the printers, and a former Marine who had seen action on Iwo Jima, turned to them to politely explain why he didn’t use the air gun with the ionized tip in his print station to clean the negs. “I don’t wanna get fuckin’ sterile,” was his explanation. Needless to say, I walked the ladies briskly over to take a look at the print washing area. Then of course there was the photog on the staff who was roundly disliked by many in the department. When this shooter would call in a job on the two way, other shooters could hear it, and they simply opened their own mikes and started barking like dogs over the air. Brutal.
You developed a thick skin, and sharp elbows. I had an editor at UPI who could say the f-bomb more times before pausing to breathe again than any human being I have every met. The fact that most of those expletives were directed at me, and my obvious lack of abilities and intelligence, bothered me not. The use of language was so creative, I simply stood in awe and appreciation.
So there ya go. Product of my environment. I’m depraved ’cause I’m deprived. Or something like that. I mean, stuff happens out there on location, and sometimes to verbally get your arms and head around the events, it just seems that a creative metaphor, or a pithy rejoinder is the way to go. Sure makes the day go faster. I am given pause when this brand of language makes it into my public teaching stints. I’ll stop, look over at Drew, and say something like, “I shouldn’t have said that, huh?” He generally sighs, and agrees. Oh well. What the fuck….more tk….