Idiot Photographer Dies

Over my years as a photographer I have developed the habit of writing my own headlines. Invariably my headlines begin with the words “Idiot Photographer Dies…” The idiot photographer that we are contemplating in these headlines is, of course, me.

Stuck in the Snow at the Hungry Horse Dam

“Idiot Photographer Dies by Walking of Rim of Grand Canyon.” I almost did that once while shooting a portrait. Fortunately my assistant saw where I was headed and yelled at me to STOP MOVING.

“Idiot Photographer Dies While Photographing Board Meeting.” You know those tall swivel chairs, the ones that rotate? They are not meant to be stood on. And yet if you can control the amount of spin you can get a somewhat out of the ordinary shot of a boring business meeting. But that’s a pretty big if. It was fascinating to watch their expressions as suddenly I became the focus of the meeting and all were wondering if I was going to fall off that dumb chair. Sigh.

One of my favorites… “Idiot Photographer Dies When Struck by Lightning.” When I lived in Kansas I used to love to go out storm chasing. I never did catch a tornado, but I did get several nice lightning shots. One day I was out waiting for a storm to roll through. I had a rough idea of it’s path and my goal was to get a head of it and photograph it before the rain actually started to hit my location. Smart, eh? I even had a beautiful compositional element to add depth to my photo – a deserted railroad track leading off into the distance. Here’s where the stupidity sets in. For a while I was actually sitting on those tracks. But then it occurred to me that the metal rails were a perfect conductor. That they could be struck by lighting miles away and still end up killing me. I got off the tracks. But, I didn’t go far. I wanted that compositional element. An hour goes by and the storm gets closer. And just as I begin to take pictures the tracks are hit by a lightning bolt. That bolt did in fact travel all the way down from where it hit to my location. Then the electricity did something I’ve never seen before. It arched. It jumped the track. What I remember is a bright, white, powerful pop right near my eyes as the bolt jumped from the track to the metal ring that makes up the filter for my lens. That scared me. I packed up my stuff and sped home as fast as I could go. I didn’t want anything more to do with that particular storm. I just ran.

Since my relocation to Montana I haven’t had a whole lot of these headlines to write. Perhaps this is because I am finally gaining a bit of common sense as I grow up? I might have hoped that were true before today. Sigh. Again. There are two headlines that come to mind prior to today. Ironically, they both involve my Jeep.

“Idiot Photographer Dies While Locked Inside Jeep.” It gets cold here in Montana. Colder than I had ever seen it. One day I had to fight my way into the Jeep in order to get from my home in the boonies to the office. Once I got inside the door wouldn’t quite stay shut so I slammed and locked it from the inside, then drove to Kalispell. The door froze solid as I drove and when I got to the office I was well and truly shut in. I even had a co-worker try to get me out of there. Nothing worked. Keep in mind, this was pretty early on in my career at the Inter Lake. Imagine my chagrin as I had to call my new boss from the parking lot and explain that I was in fact at work, I just couldn’t get into the building because I couldn’t get out of my Jeep. I had to drive the Jeep to a mechanic with a blow torch to heat up the lock and open the door.

The other headline I blogged about last year. I took my Jeep out onto some north facing trails before they were fully thawed. I’m extremely lucky to have survived that one. And the reason I survived is that the Jeep is usually exceptionally good at saving me from my own stupidity. Today I finally managed to put my Jeep into a mess that the Jeep alone could not save me from. I drove up a snow impacted trail not realizing that the five feet of snow I was driving on was not nearly as solid as it looked. I tried digging out. I tried to stand in the door way and push while hitting the gas (that was less than graceful) and when I realized I was not going to be able to get the truck out without help I gave up and called my boss to get the number of the nearest newspaper to ask for help.

I won’t bore you with details of the time I spent waiting. Listening eagerly for the sound of my rescuers. Cold. And exceeding irritated with my own mistakes. Once again, I am blogging — proof positive that the idiot photographer has yet again cheated death. Trapped in the snow has been reduced to mere “technical difficulties” — because one photographer and three snowmobilers later I am free. It took me and four guys pushing to get the Jeep out of the snow. Thank God they were there. Thank God I had just enough cell service to make two phone calls. Thank God it was a beautiful day and there were people out and about. And now that I am safely home I thank God for a lot. Like warmth and daylight and yes, even lessons learned. I’ve finally met circumstances the Jeep cannot defeat. And now that I am aware of these limitations I can behave accordingly. And hey, it wasn’t a total loss. After all, I did get to write another headline for myself. That’s always a positive (it beets the crap out of actually dying and not being able to write my sarcastic little headlines.)

Parting Shot — One of my rescuers out on the frozen reservoir

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5 thoughts on “Idiot Photographer Dies

  1. This reminds of the amazing time we had getting Jon’s Jeep out of that crazy mud road we found one summer evening. Knee deep in mud and over an hour later we all had a good laugh!

    • The Jeep is a two door. I had to fight to open the driver’s side door in the first place. The passenger door as well as the back door were frozen shut. It gets remarkably cold up in these mountains. : )

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