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|| News Item: Posted 2012-04-19

Coping With Covering Hard News
By Nic Coury, The Monterey County Weekly

Photo by Nic Coury, The Monterey County Weekly

Photo by Nic Coury, The Monterey County Weekly

Connie Cruz, mother of fire victim Monica Calderon, weeps over a picture of her daughter at a Nov. 10 memorial service in Marina. Calderon was one of five people to perish in a fire at a home for developmentally disabled adults.
In retrospect, I’m surprised the picture isn’t blurry given how much my hands were shaking. In fact, I almost put the camera down and considered deleting the picture. Instead I took a breath and kept shooting, ignoring the sorrow flowing through me.

The photograph shows Connie Cruz at a memorial in November, clutching a photo of her late daughter, Monica Calderon, and sobbing.

Monica, 24, was one of five people to perish in a fire at a Marina care-home for developmentally disabled adults in Marina, Calif. earlier that week.

I was one of three photographers and a handful of broadcast cameramen covering the memorial. I questioned what my photos of grieving loved ones would bring to the story. I had photographed Cruz two days prior at a press conference where she was also crying. It’s stories like this I bring up when people tell me I have the best job ever. I reply to them with, “Well, sometimes… ”

I discussed the fire memorial photo the next morning with a friend and colleague from another paper who had been standing next to me in the church.

“You have to have conviction when you snap the shutter or else the photo is done in vain,” he said. “You have to feel that the photos you are making are important.”

That was a good reminder of what I hope to accomplish with my photos. I want people to look at my pictures and feel. If appropriate, I want people to be disturbed and to think about what is going on outside of their comfort zones—and, hopefully, nudge them toward some kind of understanding they might not have otherwise obtained.

2011 brought a stream of “hard news” photo opportunities before my lens—and a handful of personally difficult shoots. There was a police standoff in Seaside, Calif. when Frank Reynolds shot his ex-girlfriend, Eva Rodriguez, outside of her home on Mariposa Street, barricaded himself inside and killed himself as the SWAT team surrounded the area; a neighbor let me climb onto his roof for a better vantage point of the police operation.

The photo of Jose Guzman and his daughter for a piece on kids diagnosed with terminal illnesses is still in my mind. The experience of sitting in on an autopsy at the coroner’s office also sticks with me.

Over the summer, I ran across the street from our newsroom in Seaside to an auto shop where a car had slipped off the lift and hit the working mechanic. He died from his injuries later that day. I posted a story with photos; a few days later, the man’s wife chewed me out over the phone. Both the photo and her reaction caused me to lose sleep.

I emailed Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Greg Marinovich, co-author of the book Bang-Bang Club: Snapshots from a Hidden Was, I asked how he coped with many of the hard scenes of death he photographed in South Africa. Marinovich graciously took the time to reply, saying, “Essentially news is not nice to the people involved, and that is a fact. You just have to deal with it.”

Nic Coury is a staff photographer with the Monterey County Weekly. To view samples of his work on his Sports Shooter member page: and at his personal websites: and .

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