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|| News Item: Posted 2001-03-30

My Life on the Other Side of the Lens

By Rod Mar, The Seattle Times

Photo by Courtesy of Rod Mar

Photo by Courtesy of Rod Mar
Most nights, this is what I hear when I go to work:




My photo editors? Nope, the fans at the high school basketball games I referee as a part-time job. Okay, I'll admit that my photo editors will occasionally assault me with similar epithets, but not with nearly the venom of your average basketball fan.

Every hoops season, I manage to squeeze enough time from work and family matters to immerse myself with one of my passions - basketball. I officiate high school varsity games twice a week, and it's a blast.

So, you're figuring - what the hell does this have to do with photography?

In a word: EARTHQUAKE.

Still lost? Don't blame ya. But there I was, in the middle of officiating a game at the boys state tournament, when I felt the court start to rumble. Now, the Washington State basketball tournaments are held at the Tacoma Dome, where the arena is big enough for two courts (one for boy's games, one for girls). I figured the rumbling was coming from the girl's side, where fans were jumping up and down on the metal stands.

But the rumbling didn't let up, and then the ground started to sway and rock.

I knew instantly this was an earthquake. Seemingly in unison, everyone realized it at once. We all looked up in the middle of the shaking, and saw the light riggings swaying back and forth. Some screamed, some started to run for the exits.

Having covered the Northridge quake in Los Angeles, I knew enough to stay where I was. As suddenly as it started, it was over. People didn't know what to do. I could see fans still running down the bleachers, falling and stumbling. The P.A. announcer, in shock, looked around and wondered aloud, "what should we do?"

I think I had presence of mind since I was still in "ref" mode, so I told him to tell people to calm down. He agreed, and did so, but everything was still in a state of flux.

My thoughts - how is my family? How do I get in touch with them? How bad is the damage?

Then, DAMN, I'm a photojournalist. I NEED TO GET MY CAMERAS!

Photo by Courtesy of Rod Mar

Photo by Courtesy of Rod Mar
But there I was, in my neat-o polyester striped shirt, whistle in hand, and it was clear to me that I couldn't just ditch the game to shoot pictures. It was a weird feeling, being in-between the two jobs like that. My photographic instincts were overwhelming, but I was still doing my "other job."

It was soon apparent that the damage was very minimal at the dome. Tournament and arena officials assured us we could resume play. I thought this was pretty premature (only ten or so minutes after the quake) but I was told to start the game again and we did.

So I was lucky.

I didn't have to make the decision between whistle and cameras. In a disaster with worse damage, if it were clear we weren't going to continue the game, I would have been at my car, digging out my shooting gear and in full news mode.

It was a bizarre melding of all the roles I play in my life -- husband, father, photojournalist, basketball official. Thankfully, things turned out fine. Everyone was safe, no one was killed, and the damage to the area was fairly minimal, given the quake's magnitude of 6.8.

One of our staff photographers, Dean Rutz, was shooting at the tournament, and told me that the paper had gotten hold of my wife and that everything at home was okay. That was a HUGE relief, and I was able to concentrate on basketball again.

Originally, this article was supposed to be about how my basketball officiating mixes with my sports photography. Often, shooting NBA games, I fall into "ref mode" and make calls out loud. Completely entertains or annoys Sonics team photographer Jeff Reinking, who humors me.

Heck, we sit exactly one foot behind the NBA refs. I thing sitting there has actually helped me be a better official. I watch how they handle tough plays, players and coaches. It's a great lesson. I've actually become friends with one NBA ref who is an avid photographer and carries a Mamiya RZ67 Pro II on the road to shoot pictures on off days.

He was introduced to photography by legendary sports shooter and all-around great guy Andy Hayt.

As well, there are things I see when I'm reffing games, where I'll think, "what a great photo!" and wish I had shot it with my cameras. It's a bizarre combination, but both shooting and reffing keeps me close to the game I love.

So, we had a major spot news event, and I never shot a photo. Strange. That hasn't happened in my ten years at the Times. Even though I love officiating, and working the state tournament is the highest honor at that level, no "adrenaline rush" of working championship basketball can match that of shooting spot news.

Thinking about it later, I realized that in the moment of decision, I had prioritized my life like this: family, photography, and basketball.

And that's how it should be.

(Rod Mar is a Seattle Times sports photographer who can miss his family, miss good pictures, and miss traveling calls all in the same day).

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