As the arts and entertainment reporter for the Kearney Hub, I learned many important and valuable lessons during the years. Most of those lessons can be boiled down to this one vital piece of advice: Stay out of the way.
My first introduction came while making a student film in 1976 in Arizona. I worked with a classmate to make a Super 8 film of Juan Bautista de Anza II’s travels through the Southwest. During a re-enactment — complete with horses, costumes and great drama — I stood up to get some stirring footage, only to hear a voice behind me say, “You stepped in my shot,” followed by some terms I’d rather not include in this column.
The cinematographer identified himself as a member of the National Geographic film team, the folks who orchestrated the entire event. I vowed to remember that lesson, to stay out of the way and keep track of my surroundings while covering an event.
I remembered that situation when I started thinking about fireworks this week. Several years ago I decided to dig deeply into the topic of fireworks displays for an article in the Hub, highlighting the tremendous amount of planning and engineering that obviously goes into the displays. I called a company only to get the runaround. The person who spoke to me assured me that it’s not rocket science to “light a fuse and quickly get away,”
I began to wonder if “trade secrets” played a part in his answer because, yes, I considered the amount of gunpowder and explosives involved in fireworks to be closer to rocket science than typing on a keyboard — which might be termed “computer science” by the timid.
I abandoned the idea of science completely and decided to show up, unannounced, as a crew of technicians (my term) set up fireworks for a show in the heat of the July afternoon. When I pulled up, the team seemed less than enthusiastic to see me. They went about their work, basically ignoring me and almost aiming the canons in my direction. I spent my time trying to stay out of the way, but yet get an idea of what these magicians were doing. I tossed out concepts like “painting the sky with fire” and “the grand finale of light.”
They muttered, “Uh-huh,” and actively ignored me.
I took several photographs but nothing outstanding happened. The crew members pounded a few stakes into the ground, joked about the weather and stacked boxes of material with the word “Caution” stamped on the side.
I stayed clear of that stuff, too, for fear of tipping over something that just might leave a crater.
Another lesson I learned that day involves sausage making: It might be best to enjoy the end product without worrying how it gets to that stage. Photographing a fireworks display takes special talent. Given a choice, I would rather observe than fiddle with my camera and fuss over the shutter speed and the aperture. Sometimes staying out of the way gives me a chance to be in the moment more than if I knew all the ingredients of the sausage.
I keep that lesson foremost in my mind during my daily assignments. When covering a concert, I try to be aware of audience members behind me while I get a few photographs. I stay out of the way at art openings so others can enjoy it, too. And if anything might blow up, I keep back and keep safe.
Rick Brown is a Hub staff writer