A difficult task, a lesson learned

Click here for Army Spc. Cody Grater's funeral slideshow

Anita Lewis, pictured below, took a liking to the Times staff covering her son Cody Grater's death. She was adamant about other media outlets staying the heck away from her family and the funeral. (Another paper ran some photos and words taken from a source the family didn't agree with, which got them pretty upset). In any case, when I met the family for the first time a couple of days before the funeral Lewis told me upfront that they liked me because I was polite, respectful. Inherent in their words was an expectation for me to behave the same at the funeral. This also turned out to mean they would allow me, no...ask me to get close to them during the most emotional moments. I've never had such a hard time shooting before.

Needless to say, I got emotional while taking photos during the service and at the burial. But at one point I was hit hard with an understanding of the line between journalist and fellow human being that went way beyond normal sympathy. As workers at Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell lowered Grater's casket into the grave, Anita Lewis mother's legs, and soul, gave out. She collapsed onto the ground crying "Nooo!" and begging for her son back. I lowered my camera, and turned away. That was the first time I can remember ever making the consious decision to not shoot a powerful moment. Within an instant I saw myself from afar, standing there in plain view of hundreds attending the funeral shooting away at another's most terrible moment of grief. I thought to myself, "I can't be the person who takes advantage of this situation." Not only would the paper never have run the undignified image that came from that scenario, but I understood that taking that photo would have violated the expectation the family had of me. It wasn't about making a cool shot for my portfolio or getting some gut-wrenching testament to the consequences of war. I learned, in that fraction of a second, that each situation has its proper time to take pictures, and its proper time to let things be.

I expect that in my career I'll encounter many unfortunate people going through terrible suffering. And there will be times when I'll need to keep shooting despite the harsh reality the subject is facing. Sometimes the world needs to see the cold, hard truth. But I'll also feel more confident in my ability to make a judgment call and know when to put the camera down.