Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Elephants in the Dark

Last night, I had to photograph elephants in the dark.

The circus came to town yesterday. The circus arrives on a train. A hundred or so rail cars fill the rail yard in downtown Huntsville when the circus arrives. The train is unloaded and everything is taken about a mile to the Von Braun Center where the performances take place. The big event of the day is the arrival of the elephants. Hundreds of folks lined the streets to see the elephants walk through downtown to the arena. It is a much-anticipated event.

It was supposed to happen at 3:00 p.m. It didn't. Then it was supposed to happen at 6:00, then 6:30, and finally 6:45. By now it is dark, really dark. There's not much light in a rail yard. Folks are lined up along the route to see them. Just before the elephants start the walk a light rain begins to fall. More than a light rain, but not a downpour.

Now, I've been a photojournalist more than 20 years. I can't think of a much more difficult assignment than shooting six grey elephants in the rain at night. Really, I can't. I think if I were a photojournalism professor it would be a final exam project: Make a compelling image of an elephant walk at night in the rain.

A friend brought her three-year-old son to watch the elephants. She stood on the cold and rain for three hours to see the elephants. The elephants walked quietly past trunk to tail as circus workers keeping everyone on the sidewalk. After the elephants passed with no fanfare, followed by some horses, he looked dismayed. He looked back to his mom and said "No monkeys?!" He was clearly disappointed, as was everyone else.

I give myself a C- for my work. Thank God for Photoshop. I spent 30 minutes just getting rid of raindrop flash reflections. I kept trying to think of some better angle or some better image - but there was nothing.

So I bust a hump to it back to the paper to get my image in by deadline. They said they were holding an A1 hole for the photo. Why? I can't imagine. Didn't the editors know it was grey elephants in the dark? They might not have known about the rain? (Maybe I was just there in case the elephants went crazy and rampaged through the crowd.) But, no matter, I got my photo in by deadline.

This morning, I look at A1. No elephant photo. No elephant photo anywhere in the paper. Sigh. Sometimes newspaper work is...well, there are no monkeys, either.

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