Butterflies in the Park or Fear Factor?

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“I’m standing in a stream; the elephant’s running straight towards me…  Really what I’m thinking about is when to run.”  Michael “Nick” Nichols is not just playing for thrills, but on a quest to capture a signature moment in time. 

In the television special National Geographic: Cameramen, Nichols and his fellow National Geographic professional photographers dispel the romanticism of their jobs.  Working as a photojournalist for the century-old publication is not merely the ability to aim a lens at a docile subject and click a button.    The entire purpose of National Geographic is to expose its readers to the exotic places and people that only otherwise exist in the imaginations of the readers. 

Photographers for National Geographic sometimes risk their lives to document the cultures and customs of faraway lands.  One photojournalist’s plane crashed into a lake, another contracted malaria on 12 occasions, and yet another was held at gunpoint while his hotel room was robbed at two in the morning. 

“Maybe even the troubles are more glamorous,” said Jodi Cobb, a National Geographic photographer. 

Travelling for National Geographic is wearisome.  The crew must consider expenses, weather and spend the majority of its time arranging logistics.  Photojournalists must gain access into these uncharted areas with bureaucratic permissions and authorizations.  Minimal time is spent actually pointing and shooting a camera.  Even photo shoots can be a chore or a life threat.

A vibrant picture of a frog mid-flight through a lush rainforest does not depict the 7-month labor the photographer spent just for this serendipitous split-second moment.  The picture is a frame.  It does not include the red abrasions on the photographer’s buttocks made by the 100 or more worms feeding on him while he toiled to encapsulate the striking nature of this foreign landscape.  Gazing beyond the framework, a photojournalist’s job appears more suitable for a stint on Fear Factor.

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