I made a promise to myself when I first started shooting that I would never let fear keep me from taking a photograph. Within reason, of course. I am not talking about war-zone, hand grenades, bullets-flying type situations. There is courage and passion about one’s work, and then there is just plain stupidity.
But I *have* vowed to myself that I would never let, say, fear of heights or feeling intimidated by a subject keep me from getting a shot, especially a “better” shot. And it hasn’t been easy; my legs shook when I hauled my uncoordinated self and my mamma-jamma camera bag up to the top level of a three-tier scaffold to shoot a drum and bugle corps rehearsal, and my hands shook when I went into a crowd of neo-Nazis to get a better shot of their swastika flags.
But this afternoon... was a challenge for me. I was doing a story about a 4 time gold medalist, world record-holding Olympic Swimmer who is assistant coaching/mentoring a swim team here. (He won a bunch of silver and bronze medals, too, all of which he carries around in a big Zip-Loc baggie, which just supports my theory that you can conquer the world with a towel and some Zip-Loc bags of varying sizes. :)
The head coach pointed out a few kids who are elite swimmers and will most likely compete in the Olympics, but- being somewhat naive, and from Lancaster County, the place that produced an Olympic swimmer from HHS as well as a guy from M99999901 (sorry, that was from Fred who just woke up and leapt off the monitor) excuse me, M. Central, who went to college with me and probably would have gone to Sydney in 2000 if he hadn’t had a terrible bout of the flu and was getting transfused with an IV of fluids on the deck of the pool right before and after he swam in the qualifying races- I figured having a few strong contenders for the Olympics on one team wasn’t abnormal. This is Florida; people swim outdoors year round, yadda yadda yadda.
But what I *didn’t* realize until about an hour into the shoot was that this was the kind of swim team that people move here from Canada to join and leave their families at the age of 9 to train for the Olympics. Hmmm...
Also, when I got out of the pool to change film, I heard a mother chewing out one of the assistant coaches because her daughter wasn’t “working hard enough.” The coach said, “Do you think I don’t know what I’m doing?” and the Psycho Pushy Swim Mom said, “Look, over the summer, she had a month to swim for fun and be in La La Land, but now-” [Psycho Pushy Swim Mom snapped her fingers and pounded her hand onto her other palm a few times in a “Chop Chop!” kind of way] then she snapped, “Let’s Go!” to the coach. The Coach.
Scared of that.
Anyway, I have this underwater camera that I bought a few summers ago when I was shooting kids in pools a few times a week because nothing else was happening at the Rork Yaily Decord. I was buying a lot of disposable underwater cameras at $14 bucks a pop in order to show a different perspective of this predictable boring thing, kids in public pools, I mean, so I got this reusable one, and anyway, I had the camera, a bathing suit and a towel with me this evening.
I knew the stuff I had shot was fine, solid, so-so lighting conditions, and the kids were having fun, which was nice. The Olympic Athlete was- well, he was a mouth breather, which makes for weird photos, and also...? I think he may have been... high...? Because he was sort of... vague...? And he ended a lot of sentences by trailing off in a kind of... questioning way...?
I’m just sayin.’
That aside, I knew this story would really stand stand out if I would just put on my bathing suit and get underwater shots of them diving over and swimming above me, etc. Also, the Olympic Athlete didn’t have any body fat, so he kind of sank (but not enough to prevent him from breaking a world record, mind you.) I saw this portrait in the National Portrait Gallery in London of a world-class swimmer with no body fat standing on the bottom of a pool with his arms crossed. It was amazing, and I have always wanted to opportunity to shoot something like that myself.
Okay, so I swore I would never let fear of something not life-threatening prevent me from making a better photograph, and well, that includes putting on a bathing suit and getting in a pool with an Olympic Athlete who has like, 3% body fat, and 50 kids who turn out to be elite world class swimmers, none of whom have been to college, some of whom have yet to hit puberty.
Ah, college and puberty, the genesis’ (geneses? genesi?) of curves. But I did it. I cracked a few jokes at my own expense, asking them not to dive on top of me because someone would have to haul the unconscious fat girl out of the pool. They laughed in an “Oh, Stop! (aside:) “Jeez, can you believe she actually said it?!?!” kind of way. I told them about the last time I used the underwater camera while white-water rafting, where I ended up flailing about the freezing cold Lehigh River screaming, “Get me out! Get me out! Get me in! Get me in!” with the underwater camera strapped to my wrist. They laughed harder. They were nice, though; they really were.
And it went well. My editors loved it. Oh, and Olympic Athlete knew how to blow bubble rings underwater, like smoke rings, you know? And THAT, in addition to the hits on google that discussed rumors of his brief suspension from the Olympic team for marijuana use, explains a lot. :)
(P.S. Oh, and H? I told him about our plan to compete on the Olympic level for Misplacing Things and Procrastinating. :) He laughed. I asked if he wore a cowboy hat in the opening ceremonies, but he didn’t march, because his event was first thing the next morning.)