Friday, April 16, 2010

Luck and life ...

Trixie Lee and daughter Sunni
Sometimes I have to remind myself how lucky I am.

Part of working at a small newspaper is covering events that recur year after year. I'm going into my fourth year at the Statesboro Herald, and often I find myself struggling to find new ways to record annual happenings. One of those is the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life. A campaign that lasts several months culminates in teams made up of local businesses and organizations taking turns walking all night long around a makeshift track at the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fairgrounds.

It's mostly a joyful event, celebrating life and resolve with cancer survivors taking the first lap to rousing applause to kick off the evening. There is a somber element to the event, however, with the track being lined by candles memorializing those who have died of cancer. Mostly joyful, though. Families and friends and co-workers laughing, playing, selling and eating food. Survivors hug and make conversation after waving and slapping high-fives with spectators while making their victory lap.

And my pictures from past years have mostly reflected this. This year, I worried about making all the same pictures I've made in the past. However, at the very end of the Survivors Lap, I noticed two women holding hands as they stepped off the track and continued across the field. I followed them and noticed the their t-shirts, especially the younger woman's message: "I wear pink for my mommy." I caught up with them to get their names and they shared their story. The mom had been diagnosed with cancer in 2004, had licked it, but had recently suffered a recurrence. She has undergone treatment and is awaiting final word on remission. She traveled from from out of town to join her daughter, a Georgia Southern student, who was volunteering for Relay with her sorority. We were all choked up a little, and I thanked them for allowing me to share their moment together. "She's my life," mom said of daughter.

At that point, I was pleased that I had captured something showing a different aspect of the event than I had previously photographed, but I continued to shoot features to post on our web site. The evening light cast a glow and long shadows across the scene, so I decided to take advantage. I positioned myself on the ground beside the track, shooting up at walkers as they strolled in and out of the gorgeous light. In the foreground, in the bottom of my viewfinder, were the still-unlit candles in bags anchored with sand. I was going strictly for graphic effect. I could hear people chuckling at me as I lay prone on the ground. Didn't bother me. Happens all the time. Probably a hundred peopled sauntered past, and I was just about ready to move on when I saw her. And elderly woman, walking slowly, by herself, reading the names on the bags. I kept shooting. She was practically on top of me when she paused.

Betty Hood remembers her husband at Relay for Life.

I knew she was looking at the names, so I asked her about it. She told me she was looking for her husband, who had died of cancer almost three years ago. She had stopped because she found his memorial – right in front of where I had set up to shoot pictures. I was going for visual interest. I lucked into something much more poignant. She was sad, but also grateful for the Relay and gushed about how great it was. She intended to stay the night with volunteers and walkers, and would later be joined by her sister from Savannah. Choked up again, I thanked her, too, for allowing me to share her moment and her story.

Like I said, sometimes I have to remind myself. I'm much luckier than I usually think I am. I'm lucky that life, sometimes surprisingly, keeps presenting itself to me and my camera in ways that I can share. In ways many people can learn from and reflect on. I'm lucky that I can bear witness to the human spirit.

And I'm lucky to have my own health and a family I can go home to and cherish every moment with.

I guess I'm just lucky.


  1. No, Scott, luck has nothing to do with it!! God has blessed you!!!! I love your pictures and stories!!! Thanks for sharing them with me!! I love you!! God's blessing to you and your family!!! Love in Jesus!!!

    Aunt Gail

  2. Aunt Gail is right Scott. You are blessed.

    Your old buddy on the other side of the world.


  3. I have found this to be one of the few events left these days where everyone welcomes a photojournalist and no one cares if you take their picture. I was assigned to all three in my county this year - a real challenge to not shoot the same photo over and over again.

  4. As photographers, we spend a lot of time thinking about light and composition – previsualizing how a photo might look even before we make an exposure. There's a distinct thought process behind effective photographs.

    However, in the end, you have to be open to the emotions that characterize an event or a subject. The thought process is still necessary, but at a certain point, you have to just let go and let instincts take over. That's how you capture the uniqueness in a certain situation, even if it's a reoccurring event.

    Check out this link to an interview with David LaBelle:

    Dave LaBelle: On Storytelling

    I think what he says about talking to people, finding out what they care about, and then letting them lead you to the pictures, is extremely poignant.

    Sometimes, talking isn't even necessary. Often, by simply observing and being open, people will lead you to the pictures.


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