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The day I became a storyteller...
This past month I launched Jacobin Photography. It is the realization of a dream I have held since I was 15 years old. At that tender age it was called Jacobin Productions because it was a video production company but regardless, my dream has had a name for many years.
Prior to the launch I was discussing logistics with a friend. He turned to me and asked, "Why should I hire you? What will Jacobin Photography deliver that is special?" I had no way to answer him.
The truth is there are a million very talented photographers out there who create amazing images. I wasn't sure how I would differentiate myself in this field.
So I turned to a good friend and fellow photographer, a women who had recently hired me to shoot her daughter's wedding. "Why me? Why did you hire me?" I asked her. "Because you are a storyteller." she answered me.
I lost it right then, sitting in the middle of her kitchen. I started crying among the remnants of bacon and French toast. In that one short sentence she had so eloquently named everything I am that I was moved to tears.
In my heart and soul, at the very core of my being, I tell stories. It is my life's purpose. It is my calling. It is my passion. It is the one thing I love above all else.
I started when I was four years old dictating my first short story to my mother because I was so young I didn't yet know how to write. My tale brought her to tears and I've been making people cry ever since. However that story, or any of the subsequent ones I told, didn't make me a storyteller. Listening to someone else's tragedy did.
In 2007 I was the chief video editor at KOAT Action 7 News in Albuquerque, NM. Albuquerque is a rough town and there are stories I told there that will never willingly pass my lips again. The one I am about to share I have not repeated often but in my entire career it is without question the most powerful.
I was sitting in my edit bay when a reporter came in and handed me a tape a script, as had happened countless times before. Looking over the script I immediately noted it was about a child...and that the child was no longer with us. I popped in the tape and began to edit the story...and edit the story...and finally I had to cease editing and simply start watching.
On that tape was a mother, young, beautiful, intelligent, well-spoken, and tragically ignorant. Her newborn, dead, from SIDS. In the interview she described putting the child in the crib. She described laying the baby on its stomach. And then she described coming in the following morning to find the child had died.
My breathe catches at the memory.
I can't remember her name but for as long as I live I will never forget her face. I will never forget the depth of the pain etched in that woman's eyes. But to her eternal and everlasting credit she spoke through it. She sat there in obvious agony, publicly living every mother's worst nightmare and greatest fear, and begged other parents not to make her mistake. She looked straight into that camera through her guilt, and her shame, and her grief and never once let her voice waiver. I don't know how. I don't know where a human being finds that reservoir of strength, but it was the bravest single act I have ever witnessed.
And then the interview was over. Just before they turned off the camera they caught the moment that completely broke me. She reached for her mother, who was sitting just off screen, and began weeping openly and unabashedly.
And I wept with her. I wept for her loss. I wept for her pain. I went out of a desire to comfort her knowing that I could not. But most of all I wept because she had agreed to go through hell with such poise and grace.
In that moment, in the seconds before the tape cut to black, she made me what I am. Before I put that tape in my deck my biggest concern was airing stories that were technically accurate and factually correct and getting them on TV in time. After watching her I realized that while those things were important, what I wanted more than anything was to honor her gift. To send her message out in way that did justice to what the telling cost her.
She changed me so completely with that one interview that I have never been able to look at people the same way again. When I have a camera in my hands, either still or video, I am not looking for your flaws. I am not looking at your insecurities. I am not seeing you the way you see you. I am looking at how brave you are. I am looking at how beautiful you are. I am looking for the pieces of your soul; the innocence, the youth, the mischief, all of the qualities that make you who you are.
I am trying to find them and I am trying to help you share them because at the core of my being I am the storyteller...and I can't do anything less.
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