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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 2011-01-05

Daniel Berman's Favorite Image of 2010
“Photographing pain and trauma is never easy.”

By DANIEL BERMAN, Western Washington University

Editor's Note: For this issue of the Sports Shooter Newsletter I asked students that are members of ss.com or had attended one of the Academy workshops to submit their favorite photo of 2010 and write a short piece about it. This image could be from a favorite assignment, show something they had learned or is something of a personal nature. The one requirement was, the image had to have special significance to them.

Photo by Daniel Berman

Photo by Daniel Berman

Western Washington University students gather and pray during a memorial October 6 for Dwight Clark, 18, who was found dead after being missing since September 26.
“They found Dwight Clark's body.” Five words, uttered quietly in the campus newsroom, brought a painful conclusion to a story that had gripped the college city of Bellingham and the country.

The 18-year-old Western Washington University freshman, who had moved to Bellingham only days earlier, was found dead, one mile from his dorm room, floating in a log lagoon on Bellingham Bay.

There were few clues. Autopsy months later would reveal that the high school swimmer had drowned. That he had consumed alcohol and marijuana. But when the news broke, these details were not known.

We only knew that the search was over, that his body had been found after ten days of family and friends searching and blanketing the area with posters. We only knew that he had been missing, and now, that he was gone.

I photographed the candlelight vigil days into his disappearance, when his status was still unknown, and later, the memorial, when the sad, devastating truth had been discovered.

Photographing pain and trauma is never easy. It isn't fun. It isn't about making portfolio pictures or winning clip contests. It isn't about me – and it isn't just about the viewer. It's about documenting, for history's sake, the tragic events, which have affected us all.

It was a challenge. It was a challenge to even bring the camera to my face when Dwight Clark's mother hugged her nephew at the start of that vigil. When she cried out for her son's safe return. When the president of the university, who had lost his own child in a disappearance years earlier, put his hand on her shoulder. There is nothing easy about photographing pain.

It was a challenge to photograph my fellow students as tears balled up in their eyes. As they took turns lighting candles for each other and embraced strangers in bear hugs.
An on-campus memorial was held hours after the news broke, organized by text messages and copy paper taped to poles and brick walls. Hundreds of students were in attendance. I was one of them.

I photographed the memorial on assignment for SeattlePI.com. The newspaper-turned-news website had dutifully followed the Dwight Clark story, and I appreciated the opportunity to contribute.

It was an emotional memorial to cover, and I did my best to both document those emotions and respect the privacy of these grieving students. It was a tough line to walk. Most were understanding of my unenviable position. Others became upset with my presence. They asked if I even cared.

I put myself in their shoes, and I know I wouldn't want me to be there either. I wouldn't want to hear clicks amid wails. I wouldn't want to see my tears on the front page of some website.

But then I thought about what happens when people don't see these pictures. When they don't see how much these circumstances had hurt and transformed a community.

And so I told those questioning students the same thing.

There is nothing easy about photographing pain.


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