Hey Man Nice Shot

24 Jun

When Budd Dwyer—former Treasurer of Pennsylvania found guilty of receiving kickbacks for influencing legislation and steering a multi-million dollar contract toward a private company—shot himself on camera, I was a senior in high school trying to decipher the insufferable Geoffrey Chaucer. Or maybe Beowulf. Word came down that some politician had offed himself in front of several cameras covering a live “press conference” in Harrisburg, PA and I was interested. It would be several years before I actually got to watch the footage of Dwyer urgently swallowing that piece of lead on the eve of his sentencing, but I remember thinking what wonderful composure that cameraman must have had to not even flinch when Budd did the deed.

Over the last couple of decades I’ve debated people and have read many articles on the ethics of photojournalism. In Dwyer’s case there was nothing anyone could do about his sudden surprise, despite the clearly-audible pleas to reconsider. But time and time again photographers and reporters have been criticised for not getting involved in that which they’re covering–especially when it comes to documenting atrocities. I know where I stand on that argument, and it doesn’t really matter what I believe as I’m not on any type of valiant mission to change minds or personal values, but one thing of which to take note is that the human being on the side of the lens documenting the inhumanity being perpetrated on the other side of the lens probably realizes that he/she is a much more effective conduit for eventual justice in the present position and will more than likely end up processing the situation in a personally detrimental manner, the effects of which may not affect him or her until much later.

Remember that, as you come across various stories of people stuck in difficult situations. Or as you read about the brilliant Kevin Carter and his tragic demise, or the rest of the Bang-Bang club.

The video above is severely edited; there are other sites which show the un-cut footage and the bloody aftermath of Dwyer’s suicide as people scramble to figure out how to deal with what they’ve just witnessed. It’s not a pretty sight, what happens as Budd collapses. The human body holds a lot of blood. But I think it unfair to believe that there was something someone could have done instead of keep shooting. Or, rather, I think it unfair to believe that this strangely public act didn’t severely affect the ones witnessing it or documenting it (never mind family and friends).

Everything around us rolls in degrees. Often it’s minute nuances which can alter events slightly but quickly spin them into major situations. There is always the oppressor, the victim, and the unseen detritus in its numerous incarnations and levels, that results directly from the disintegration or deterioration of the injustice being perpetrated.

They all matter.

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6 Responses to “Hey Man Nice Shot”

  1. Ava Joe 24/06/2010 at 12:06 PM #

    I am stunned, which I believe, is the point. The cameraman could not have stopped him. Others tried, and their hands were free. Thank you for a moving piece and your wise insight.

  2. (S)wine 24/06/2010 at 12:21 PM #

    If you have time, please read Kevin Carter’s story (I’ve linked it here). I think this piece may be a bit un-focused, but my point is that everyone seems to be making these guys and gals out to be bad, stand-bys, motivated by money or fame…when in fact, added all up, the atrocities they’ve seen and documented in their careers take huge chunks out of their lives–if not their lives altogether.

  3. ~otto~ 24/06/2010 at 11:39 PM #

    There are no white hats and no black hats in these cases. That is why it is so rich for debate. I think most people misunderstand what it means to be a journalist, which to so many these days is a bad word. I was a journalist for 15 years. I have very little to be proud of. But that says more about me than the profession when it is performed properly. I have deep sympathy for Carter. I do not think I could have taken the photo he took. But I was not the journalist he was. I do not even know what I am trying to say except fuck Budd Dwyer, a horrible coward and disgrace to human life.

  4. (S)wine 25/06/2010 at 10:21 AM #

    Yea, my point is not to eulogize Dwyer…he was a corrupt politician (redundancy?) who chose not to do his time in prison. Carter’s photo of the child and the vulture is not without controversy. Members of the Bang-Bang Club have tried to set the record straight. No matter…the point is that most of these guys and gals go through many difficulties if they even get out of the combat zones they’re documenting.

    Carter’s suicide note read: “I am depressed … without phone … money for rent … money for child support … money for debts … money!!! … I am haunted by the vivid memories of killings and corpses and anger and pain … of starving or wounded children, of trigger-happy madmen, often police, of killer executioners…I have gone to join Ken if I am that lucky.”

    Ken was Ken Oosterbroek, member of the Bang-Bang Club. He was killed by friendly-fire in Thokoza township, about 25km east of Johannesburg.

  5. hoist 25/06/2010 at 11:23 PM #

    In the past I’ve had a lot of ugliness to say about photojournalism of this type. In particular, Carter and his photo. And though I still sort of wonder why he didn’t help the child out after snapping it, he himself did a lot more than wonder. No doubt it’s important to try and nab that pic that could launch a thousand ships but the idea that in doing so, one has to temporarily neuter their own compassion or desire to help another human being is completely beyond me.

    I’m not the type of person that can compartmentalize that way, or keep my eyes on the prize, I guess. It sandbags my understanding in a pretty bad way so I try hard not to judge.

    Thanks for the thoughts.

  6. (S)wine 30/06/2010 at 8:40 AM #

    Hoist, actually if you read the true story, the little girl was on her way to a feeding camp; her parents were just ahead of her (but out of the photo, obviously). Carter didn’t NEED to do anything–her parents helped get her there.

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