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|| News Item: Posted 2008-11-11

Gray Matters: Be Friendly
Jim Merithew says if John Iacono can be friendly in the press room or on the field, why can't the rest of us?

By Jim Merithew,

Photo by Chuck Solomon / Sports Illustrated

Photo by Chuck Solomon / Sports Illustrated

Sports Illustrated's John Iacono shows off his Lucie Award after being honored with the Achievement in Sports Lucie Award at Lincoln Center in New York City on Monday night, October 20, 2008.
When did we become such a bunch of punks? I want to say bitches or fu!#@ers, but I'm going with punks because this column, and this website, are kid friendly. I mean seriously, we can be such a pack of self-centered, elitist, anti-social folk.

The issue is on my mind because I've traveled a lot lately for work. At each new place I've run into various photojournalists. I'm sorry to say that almost every single one was a real bummer.

I admit that when I'm working I can be pretty intense and focused. But when I'm sitting around the pressroom sipping on whatever lukewarm beverage has been provided, I like to strike up a conversation and maybe make a new friend.

For example, I was recently in Vegas photographing a big, international bike show. Not exactly breaking news or a super competitive situation. It's the end of the first day and I hit the pressroom. The reporters are at tables and the photographers in the lounge. I plop down on a couch, get a bad cup of coffee and start downloading my cards. While they're downloading I do a "hey, what up" head nod to the other shooters. Nothing but blank stares or half-nasty looks. I ease drop on their conversation and find out they are all Vegas-area freelancers. I finish my work in silence and bolt for the beautiful Riviera.

The next day the same scenario plays out. But this time I decide to be bold. I plop down, get my bad coffee, start downloading my cards and throw out a fuller verbal greeting. "Hey. How's it going? Did everyone have a good day? Anybody make any decent frames?" All I hear back is grumble, grumble.

Now, I do have one friend (hello, DP) who is so competitive and gets so worked up he can't stand the thought of talking to another photographer. I also have a couple of friends who belong to photographer cliques. And I'm guessing that some of you are just socially impaired?

But really, can someone explain what gives with all the hostility and unfriendly behavior towards other photographers?

Trying to think it through I flashed back to 1996. It's opening day at Yankee Stadium and Derek Jeter is about to start his first opening day game as shortstop for the Yanks. I'm a staffer at his hometown paper, the Kalamazoo Gazette, and have been sent to cover the game.

This is my first trip to New York and one of the few times I have photographed Major League anything. As you can imagine I was nervous, a little discombobulated and amped.

A couple of hours before the game I was in the press lunchroom eating the free food. I sat at a quiet table in the corner and tried to avoid making eye contact with anybody for fear they might realize I didn't belong there.

I had just started to push the food around on the plate and go over my game plan when I saw another photographer making his way toward my table. There were plenty of empty tables but dude came right at me.

He sat down ate, and started asking me questions. Where are you from? What are you doing here? What spot am I credentialed for? He told me a couple of baseball stories and we made small talk. Chit chat. I don't remember much of the conversation other than he seemed genuinely interested, and kind.

After lunch another photographer stopped to ask me if I knew who I had just eaten lunch with. Turns out I spent my lunch with Johnny Eye, Johnny Iacono. A Sports Illustrated photographer extraordinaire decided to sit with me instead of the hot shots at the other tables.

I have run into Johnny I plenty of times since, but never bothered to tell him the story. I am sure it meant more to me than him. Hell, I am sure that is how he lives his life. Which is my point. If Johnny Eye can be friendly and kind in the press room or on the field, why do the rest of us have to be such a bunch of punks?

I, for one, am going to make the effort to be a little more Johnny and a little less punk. So if you see me in the press room or on the field and I happen to say "hi" or "how you doin'?" Don't freak out. I'm probably just interested in how you're doing.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and the author alone. They do not represent the views of his employer, co-workers, friends or family.

(Jim Merithew is a picture editor at Jim invites you to direct your questions and comments about this column and other issues involving photojournalism ethics to him through his member page:

Related Links:
Merithew's member page
Iacono's member page

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