The Digital Journalist
A Letter from Central America
January 2005

by James Colburn

My cameras are magical. They protect me from harm and major life catastrophes. They are talismans against disruption. I carry a camera almost everywhere. If I don't have a bag with a couple of bodies and a few lenses with me, there's usually a point-and-shoot in my pocket. If I forget that, somewhere there's a backup point-and-shoot in the glove compartment of the car. If something happens to that, there's the disposable camera in the trunk.

I do this because I want to be ready for the shot-of-a lifetime - the plane crash, the explosion, the Brad-And-Jen-In-A-Fight-At-The-Bar photo, and, by being so prepared, nothing much ever happens. The Washington Monument will probably not fall over as I drive by. I won't witness the drunken senator crash his car into the school bus and see the half-naked hooker leap from the passenger seat of his car and run towards me. Brad and Jen? Probably at a bar across town. Elvis? He won't jog by me and wave.

But the recent tsunami in the Indian Ocean has given me pause. I'm sure that there were photographers, either professionals or serious amateurs, on the beach at Phuket or the shores of Sri Lanka who saw the wave rolling in and instinctively grabbed a camera to shoot what they thought would be their most famous photographs. What if it were you and you knew, really knew, that you had THE shot. The prize winner. The guaranteed Pulitzer. In The Freaking

Bag. And then reality hits ... there's a wave, it's 30 feet tall and it's heading your way.

And you cannot outrun it.

What do you think at that point? Aside from the obvious things like, "I'll never see my family again," and "Did I remember to close the garage door before I left for the airport?" your mind might wander into "Oh Shit," "Life cannot be this cruel," "Can I please get my money back?" or even "Is there a God?"

You might start to wonder about things photographic: Is this camera waterproof? Does a compact flash card float? Will the son-of-a-bitch who finds my bloated body washed up on the shore take the camera and sell the pictures to Paris Match and put his own name on the photo credit?

Any way you look at it, it's got to suck.

© James Colburn
Contributing Writer