I Just Take Pictures [continued]
At about 2:00am, the black desk phone near my bed startled me with what I had hoped was a misdialed number. However, upon hearing the voice on the other end, I knew immediately that this was no mistake. “Berger, are you the “on-call photographer tonight?” “Yes, sir, I am.” “This is Sergeant Brown from the Air Police. I need you to come out and take some pictures of an airplane parked near the flight line.” “Is it an emergency?” I asked. My mind went racing to thoughts of one of my fellow airmen tangled up in the engine of a cargo plane. “No, no emergency.” “Then why must I get the shots now, at two in the morning?” I asked. “Well, it’s just that we have to document that the problem was discovered on this shift and that we immediately had photos taken.” Loving bureaucracy as I always have, I dragged my tired rear end out of bed, put on my uniform, grabbed my big gray hard-sided camera case and opened the latched lid to make sure it was loaded with my ungainly Speed Graphic camera, the gigantic flash, M5 flashbulbs, and a full supply of metal film holders loaded with 4×5 inch black and white film. I picked it up, and feeling the weight of the case, I instinctively knew I had all the supplies I needed. I trudged over to the location thinking of how much I missed my warm bed back in the barracks. There was little activity at this moment out on the flight line, so I felt grateful that at least I didn’t have to deal with the deafening sound of aircraft revving their engines prior to take off. This was a blessing since my camera had no meter, autofocus, or anything else that nowadays we find to be absolute necessities and I needed to concentrate on getting the settings right.
As I approached the aircraft, I was met by Sgt. Brown. He told me that I had to photograph a damaged bolt on the top of one of the wings. Wanna know how high it is up on the top of a giant military cargo plane? And how slippery it can get if there’s moisture on the wing? And how hard it is to see a damaged bolt in the dark at 2am? Anyway, after riding up in the cherry picker, and finding a safe place up there for me and my gear, I manually calculated the correct flash exposure in my foggy after hours brain. After doing several ballet moves I found the right position and got the shots…all angles, medium closeups, macro shots etc. Once back on the ground I turned to the sergeant who was now accompanied by a flight line mechanic. He told me the good news…I didn’t have to go back to the lab to develop the film and make prints; that could wait till tomorrow. At this point the airman mechanic asked us if he could now replace the damaged bolt. The sergeant gave him the okay. The airman then turned to me and said, “So this is your job in the Air Force? You just take pictures?” No longer half asleep, I replied, “So this is all you do…just fix airplanes?”
So what’s the point? All of you who pursue photography, spend hours traveling to locations, composing, focusing, shooting, editing, printing etc. know that this passion of ours requires work…both manual and mental. Some earn a living at it while for others it’s simply a labor of love. Whenever you’re out there shooting, whether on top of an airplane or in front of your dining room window always remember that there is real value in what you do. Don’t ever be dissuaded by someone who says, “So this is all you do…take pictures?”