What if?

  • Aperture: f/2.8
  • Focal Length: 200mm
  • Shutter: 1/4000 sec
  • Camera: NIKON D1H

Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Sometimes, the things I see through my lens blow my mind, shake me to the core and force me to re-evaluate everything I have ever believed about life. I had the privilege of photographing this couple on Saturday, and it ran as a nice package in today’s paper.

The assignment called for me to meet the couple at our local college quad and photograph them as they practiced bujinkan budo taijutsu together. Because they met on Valentine’s Day through martial arts, the editors thought it would make a nice love story. And it did.

It was touching to see how they manage to communicate even though he has cerebral palsy and is sometimes hard to understand. It was awe-inspiring to see how fiercely independent he is, how fiercely devoted she is to him. It was revealing to hear them talk about how society sometimes views their relationship, automatically casting them in the roles of caretaker and invalid.

As photojournalists, we cover a lot of stories like this — heart-warming vignettes of everyday people doing extraordinary things. Sometimes the stories touch us personally, other times they are nothing more than an ordinary assignment on an ordinary day.

I was looking through my lens, shooting, shooting, just an ordinary assignment, when suddenly I just stopped. It took my breath away, left me kneeling in the dirt, stunned.

I SAW. I saw their focus. Saw their concentration. Saw them read their opponent, saw them reach that place of stillness in their heads — in control, steady, unwavering calmness — every fiber of their body present, ready. She is a tiny wisp of a girl. He is in a wheelchair. But each of them have found a way to defend themselves and — if necessary — protect each other.

No pity. No fear. No hesitation. Just pure, deliberate action, practiced so many times that it is a reflex. They practice in the dark; they practice in the cold; they practice in the rain, they practice blindfolded. They practice multiple attackers and attackers with weapons. They practice because it brings them joy; they practice because it gives them strength. They may have their weaknesses, but they will never be victims.

It blew me away and made me wonder, what if? What if that was me? What if I could do that? What if I could find that place in my head? What if I had that level of confidence? What if?

Music of the day: In the Air Tonight by Phil Collins

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