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Cameras and Mourners

April 4, 2010

Last week I got a photo assignment to shoot UCF’s Eternal Knights ceremony. It is a service that honors students who have died in recent academic terms. To be honest, I was not expecting this to be a big deal for me. I would go, take photos and probably leave a bit early for class. I went, I sat down and I knew this was going to be completely different from what I expected.

Twenty-six students have died in recent semesters. Twenty-six kids just like me, just like my friends, died. So there I was, a media person among the mourners of these 26 lost lives. I have never felt that my presence was so inappropriate as I did then. Before the program even started, I could hear people crying. I almost left my camera in my bag, but I had to think of this as my job. I had to get these photos.

I knew it would be totally unethical to take pictures of those people in mourning, so I snapped a few shots of the string quartet that played as people filed into the room, checked my white balance and shutter speed, and such. The ceremony began, and I took photos of the speakers (not the most exciting pictures, mind you). The room was completely silent, and those of you who know my camera know it sounds like a cannon (the artillery, not the brand). I felt like the loudest thing in the room.

When the eulogist began saying each of the 26 names, I sat back down and put my camera down also. With each name, a person came forward, placed a yellow rose in one of 26 vases on a table in front (yellow for joy, but more likely yellow because roses do not come in gold), someone would ring a bell and the deceased would be deemed “Eternal Knight”. With each name, the eulogist gave the person’s major. At this point, I was about to cry, and I did not even know these people. But hearing their majors made them seem more real to me. These people had hopes and dreams. Some of them were Undeclared. They were still trying to figure things out. What if these people wanted to do something huge for the world? What if they wanted to feed the hungry, heal the sick? What if they wanted to make art, or music, or joy?

To my right was a big group of fraternity/sorority people, all in purple shirts. I had met one of them in marching band last year (he was way cool). They had lost someone.

I settled for taking photos of the roses on the table after the ceremony. I was pleased with how they came out. They represented the students, and the sadness, without actually showing people.

This is what makes photojournalism different from commercial photography. As the lovely MC Santana always tells our class, we are not here to take photos of puppies and clouds (unless the clouds are a tornado). Commercial photography is great. Everyone wants senior pictures, family portraits, wedding photos, pet portraits, etc. But photojournalists are the ones who tell stories. We get the photos that are not necessarily pretty. Of course, community events and sports and things like that are also what we do. But we also shoot wreckage after storms, people in poverty, wars being fought, dead people, crime scenes and, of course, ceremonies to remember loved ones who have passed away.

Don’t get me wrong: I still love taking fun photos of my friends and family, landscapes, sunsets and the occasional flower. But I want my life to be devoted to showing the world the images it needs to see. I want to tell the stories of those who have no voice, go where no one wants to go and be unafraid.

In short, this experience was something I had to go through. It was sad, it was news, it was something I had to shoot. My heart goes out to the families and friends who lost their loved ones. I hope my photos and the article that will probably accompany them will do you justice.


2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 4, 2010 5:18 pm

    I love the picture

  2. Crystie permalink
    April 5, 2010 12:08 pm

    Beautifully written Amy. You are amazing.

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