Crossing the bar

  • Aperture: f/11
  • Focal Length: 18mm
  • Shutter: 1/200 sec
  • Camera: NIKON D1H

Tuscaloosa, Alabama

06-17-04 — Tuscaloosa, Ala. — Bama Belle riverboat captain Mike Medeiros (right) greets Doug McDonald and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers park ranger Dale Pickard as they board the boat Thursday morning before departing on an outing for students and clients of Sprayberry Regional Education Center and United Cerebral Palsy of West Alabama. The annual event, “Special Day for Special Kids,” was organized by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and included a cook-out and awards ceremony following the boat trip. More than 60 children and adults participated in the event. (Carmen Sisson/Tuscaloosa News) 

Just a caption in my computer. Another photograph from another news assignment. There are thousands just like them, photos that weren’t particularly special at the time, just random moments in a photojournalist’s life. We practice being flies on the wall. We practice becoming invisible. When the shooting is done, we set aside our cameras and become the other half of the equation. We ask questions and then we sit back, bide our time, and wait. We scribble quotes on the backs of envelopes. We try to draw our subjects out, find out what makes them laugh, cry, live, bleed.

For an hour or an afternoon, we become a footnote in their life story. By the time the paper hits the porch, we will be on to the next thing. That’s the nature of the business — a crash course in intimacy and trust with people who give the most private parts of themselves to us. And then we walk away. We couldn’t keep shooting if we didn’t. We would become too battered by the secrets we carry, too scarred by the things we have seen, too involved with our subjects to let their stories go.

What no one tells you in J-school is that you won’t forget. To look at someone through your lens is to record every line of their face, every fleeting emotion. To listen that intently is to hear everything, the words not said in a half-second pause, the meaning shifted by a subconscious inflection. No one tells you that as much as you become a part of their story, they become a part of yours. And then one day it happens — a splash of Helvetica on a dirty page adds the postscript.

Captain Michael Medeiros, 59, died Friday night when he fell from an interstate bridge.

I didn’t know him particularly well, but I had the pleasure of being on his boat many times. And so, it is with great sadness that I add my own postscript to his life:

Crossing the Bar, by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;

For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have cross’d the bar. 

Thank you, Captain Mike, for your steady hands, ready smile and willingness to take a dream and turn it into a reality. Because of your vision, many people have a treasure trove of happy memories, including me.

You will be missed.

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