The Funeral Question

Someone commented on my previous post, asking good questions. Here’s what they asked:

What I’d like to know is how do you deal with camera noise at a funeral? What do you consider a respectful distance? And have you ever had issues with family at funeral, i.e. asking you to leave or not photograph? How do you deal with such a situation?

Each case is so different. Here are some thoughts…

In most cases, if I’m sent to a funeral, the family is expecting media coverage because it’s usually a big story in the community. The people who work for the funeral home are often good go-betweens for us, to find out what the family’s wishes are with regards to media. In most Mormon funerals, we will photograph the pallbearers carrying the casket from the church and then the graveside service.

Access runs the gamut from full access to none. When the family asks that we not be there, a judgment call has to be made. If it’s a big story with a lot of public interest (like the Trolley Square shooting), we will probably photograph from a long way off so that the family has their solitude. This is always a hard decision to make, but my presence has never caused any confrontation.

The thing to remember about confrontations is that if you get into one, no matter where you are, it’s too late to win. By the time someone is telling you to stop taking photographs, they’re usually not going to change their mind and you have find a way to get around them.

Respectful difference also varies. With a long lens, I don’t have to be close. For this funeral, the mourners gathered around the family, so we were closer than I would have liked. You just have to pay attention to the vibe you’re getting and minimize your impact on the family. I’ve been close and I’ve been far depending on how comfortable they are.

As for camera noise, a couple of things. I use a long lens (at least a 400mm) so that there’s a distance between me and the mourners. And I always set my camera to single shot. I don’t think the sound of the shutter is as distracting as the context.

For example, say a widow bursts into tears and all of a sudden you hear a camera start firing off 8 frames per second. That doesn’t seem right. It’s like a pack of wolves pouncing on a defenseless rabbit.

But if all through the service you’ve heard occasional single shots fired off, you won’t notice when a couple of single shots are taken during an emotional moment. How you conduct yourself, in every way, sends a message.

Most often, it’s the people around the family who are the most defensive. They’re looking out for their loved ones, and that’s commendable behavior. But we are there to tell a story of love and loss. I’ve never been there to exploit the situation.

When my brother-in-law died tragically five years ago, I brought my camera bag to the funeral. As they wheeled his flag-draped casket out of the church, my extended family broke down, faces covered with tears. I felt the pull of my camera but didn’t dare bring it out in the middle of such a sensitive moment.

Through tears, my wife said, “Trent, what are you doing? Get your camera out. We need you to document this moment.”

Crandall Canyon Mine – Gary Jensen Funeral MM

I put together a slideshow from Gary Jensen’s funeral. The audio track I edited from the service is very simple (you have to keep things simple when you’re working 17-hour days). From an hour of material, I only used a hymn and a quote from Jensen’s son Robert, recorded at the service.

There were a lot of great things said by the friends and family. My notes were riddled with stars, noting the quotes I wanted to use. But in editing, nothing was more powerful than Robert’s statement, which he made as he and his brother and sisters made tributes to their father. It’s better heard than written. When you hear his voice, you realize he’s speaking right from the heart.

For the record, here’s what he said:

“Whether it be through his belief in his faith, whether it be a mine rescue, whether it be just in the community, the Jaycees, the little league wrestling, the little league programs the he did for the kids, the programs he started that affected so many in the valley that I’m surprised by or just the words when you’re in the mine and you have a problem and he’s there to lend you a hand to help you, my father lived for the people and he died for the people, and he will be remembered by all of us as one who lived that principle that every man, regardless of who you are, every woman regardless of who you are, every child deserves to be respected, deserves to be loved, and deserves to be appreciated.

He died in tragedy but he’ll be remembered as a blessing to everyone of our lives. and I swear this, I believe it, and I look upon you guys and I see it. I thank you so much for the family for all the support you’ve done. And I say this in the name of my Savior, amen.”

Here’s the link to the multimedia:

Crandall Canyon Coal Mine Tragedy – Media Camp

For the past two weeks, as the tragedy of the Crandall Canyon mine story continued, I’ve been thinking about this post. Originally intended to be a look at life among the media stationed at the command post, I lost enthusiasm for the humorous approach as the news got grimmer and grimmer. So here are my rough notes from two weeks ago during my first stint sleeping in the car and photographing at all hours, straight from the notebook…

parked on the highway

sleep in car from 2-7am…only wake up in the night, like 57 times

sometime in the night a van pulls in front of me, lights, doors slamming

guy’s car alarm goes off

at 424 I wake up and see all the TV lights on. it’s 624 eastern standard, so all the networks are doing their morning shows…the phone doesn’t ring so I go back to sleep; the reporter is pulling the all-nighter and has my #. I’m like a fireman…she’ll call if anything happens.

in the morning when I do wake up it’s like journalist summer camp out there. clusters of early risers with fleece jackets and coffee. there are four packs of donuts that someone has donated. They sit in the sun all day until someone goes for it in the late afternoon.

wi-fi provided by sheriff

verizon brought in a cel tower so I have phone and internet

free food- salvation army

my car is junk food heaven…2 boxes of pop tarts, chips ahoy cookies, gatorade, cake donuts, water, muffins, a 3lb box of Cheez Its, and some Hershey chocolate bars that I’ve been trying unsuccessfully to keep from melting. it’s just stuff to keep my energy, and most of it goes uneaten.

Friday am press conference – 15 tripods. big story.

murray’s outfit

gusts of wind from a landing news chopper shreds support banners at the family HQ

people fighting over pool arrangements

with nothing but free time between press conferences, it seems like a class distinction breaks out between the people who sleep in their cars at the command post and those who head back to their hotel rooms in Price

the gossip crowd

AP reporter overheard this morning: “What’s today? Friday?”

Crandall Canyon Coal Mine Tragedy – 4am

This was last week. Sitting in my car at the command post, I drifted off around 2am. The walkie squawked at 4am. My heart immediately started pumping the adrenaline. The reporter told me that Murray was on the scene.

I grabbed my gear and ran over to the trailer where everything has been happening. Murray looked as tired as I felt. There was no news. They weren’t going to tell us anything until they talked to the family. I got a few more as he interviewed with TV, sent in some photos, and was back in the front seat of the car with my eyes shut, waiting until the walkie told me to get up again.

Crandall Canyon Coal Mine Tragedy – Close to the Mic

More from last week’s mass. Once people began arriving at the mass, especially miners’ family members, the organizers asked photographers not to photograph or film the families. With so many national media around, no one really stopped filming, so the media was moved. Instead of being in the shade with coolers full of bottled water, they were all moved out into the blaring sun in the weed-filled parking lot.

After the mass, a few locals came out to talk about things (at that point, there was more hope than there probably is today).

One man who braved the cameras started to answer questions and soon they were all yelling, “We can’t hear you!” and “Get closer to the microphone!” Okay, so he started answering his questions like this:

If you’ve never been around the media horde on a big story like this, count yourself lucky. When you have as many as sixteen video tripods around, the circus must be in town.

Crandall Canyon Coal Mine Tragedy – Mr. Murray

Crandall Canyon mine owner Robert Murray quickly became the focus of attention at every press briefing. A colorful, candid character, who seemed to be tireless in his efforts to rescue six miners trapped underground.

I’d be very interested to know how much sleep Murray got while the rescue effort was underway. My guess: very little.

After photographing numerous press conferences, we all started trying to come up with any kind of different angle of Murray. It wasn’t long before I found myself photographing Murray walking from his car. At least it was a different angle.

One night I got these photographs as he appeared on CNN. (I think it was Larry King Live.) Great light, thanks to CNN.

Crandall Canyon Coal Mine Tragedy – Playing to the Camera

As a photojournalist, when do you know you’re being played? How do you know when someone or some company or some politician is playing to the camera, acting to send some sort of visual message?

I’ve photographed thousands of people, and I’ve seen a few experts at playing to the camera. Orrin Hatch, for example. The guy is a pro. He always knows where the camera is.

Covering the Crandall Canyon coal mine tragedy and the effort to rescue six trapped miners, there were moments where I wondered if mine owner Robert Murray was playing to the cameras.

Before I go further, I’m not saying that Murray was playing to the cameras. For all I know, these situations were all genuine. Real or not, they are perfect for discussion.

The first time I wondered was when Murray put his arm around miner Paul Gilbert. It didn’t seem like natural compassion. Maybe it was.

A little while later, Murray walked off, away from a group of photographers, and seemed to have a small breakdown.

Maybe he was overcome with emotion, maybe he was playing for the cameras. He’d probably been awake for at least 48 hours at this point, so I wouldn’t rule it out as a genuine moment. I felt it was genuine, but when I asked another veteran photographer if he thought Murray was playing for the cameras, the vet said, “Of course. It was so obvious.”

Later that afternoon, Murray showed up for the afternoon briefing in full coal miners’ gear, hard hat included. He said he’d just come from the mine, and displayed a handful of coal during his Q&A with reporters. The seriousness of the situation didn’t stop the humorous speculation that Murray had dressed up and rubbed coal on his face just for the cameras. Again, I gave him the benefit of the doubt.

A few days later I saw him get out of his SUV for another press conference. He opened the back door to retrieve his hard hat. At that point I wondered, why put on a hard hat to face reporters?

Maybe the answer is obvious.

Crandall Canyon Coal Mine Collapse – Day 1, Tour

I arrived at the command post just in time to hear mine owner Robert Murray announce that he would be taking members of the media on a tour of the Crandall Canyon coal mine, where six miners were trapped. The composite photo above, taken just below the mine entrance, is made up of twenty-four photographs. I’ve been playing around with PhotoShop CS3’s PhotoMerge feature to build my panoramics; that’s why it’s all freaky looking.

We crowded into a windowless truck and were driven up the hill to the mine. Spontaneously, at least half the journalists began making the same jokes: either, “Where does the poison gas come out?” or, “Now that they have us all in one place, they’ll push this truck off a cliff.”

Under the circumstances, being taken on the tour of the mine was unprecedented. We are usually kept well away from an emergency situation like this. You can see that, compared to the miners, we weren’t necessarily dressed for the occasion, at least safety-wise.

The next day Murray took an Associated Press photographer right into the mine itself to photograph the rescue operation. Something like that has never happened before, at least not in the modern media environment. Those photographs were distributed to all outlets in a pool arrangement.

Crandall Canyon Coal Mine Collapse

Just came off four busy days covering the efforts to rescue six trapped miners in the Crandall Canyon coal mine outside of Huntington, Utah. I’m thoroughly exhausted, and can only imagine how the rescue teams who have been working nonstop for nearly a week feel.

A lot more to say and photographs to show about the story, and it’s still unresolved. Let’s hope those guys are okay, that there’s a miracle. It seems that in the coverage it’s easy to forget the six men at the center of it.

I did two multimedia pieces on the story last week. Click the links below or click the photos to watch the pieces.

The Moving Wall

This week, The Moving Wall, a half-size replica of the national Vietnam Veterans Memorial (with its 58,000+ names) was on display in Provo. We decided to pull another multimedia daily out of it. You can click the photo above to watch it.

I talked to (and recorded) a few veterans before realizing that the audio was unusable. I shouldn’t have expected these men to recount their stories of war and loss to a stranger with a recorder. They did their best. One man told me about his best friend who died in Vietnam. He then thanked me and walked off in tears.

Gerald Hubbard, a volunteer at the site, told me his story of healing at the wall. I boiled down that interview into a short multimedia piece.

Here is the link:

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