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8BThe Statement // Wednesday, March 31 2010
BY ZACHARY MEISNER
am not, and will never be, a great
From the first week of my fresh-
man year through the summer of
2009, a camera strap was as essential
apiece of clothingto meas myunder-
wear. I inhaled campus through my
camera lens. The benchmark for my
success was capturing spontaneous
campus moments, and I was deter-
mined to miss nothing.
And I was pretty good at it. Though
I wasn't the best among the people I
worked with, I carried my weight as
long as I carried my camera.
Yet, even during those formative
years of being a photojournalist, I
struggled with the implications of
keeping my face guarded behind
the comfort of a camera rather
than engaging with my subject. No
photographer shoots the trial of a
condemned man for the first time
without becoming a little nause-
ated at his or her semi-disgusting,
awkward role in that moment of the
man's life -, as photographers, we
profit from the lowest points in oth-
It wasn't until I left the comfort of
Ann Arbor and immersed myself in a
foreign culture that this suppressed
self-loathing escaped and I was no
longer able to maintain myrelatica-
ship with my camera.
I spent May of 2009 in Dar es
Salaam, Tanzania, working on short
documentaries to raise money for
and awareness of the global issue of
avoidable blindness. I lived outside
the city with five fabulously talented
creators and documentarians - all
students - working on the project
with me. Everyone was a photogra-
RNA LISTS DILEMMA camera like a smoker quittin' cold
turkey, forced to watch "Madmen"
After a few days, my cravings sub-
sided and I took in my environment
with a naked eye. I began to notice
nuances in our subjects.
In reality, these were visible
through the lens but somehow they
were obstructed by the process of
As a visitor in an environment one camera out at a time. Three of us photographing. In still images, there
where the cost of your equipment would work in one section of the hos- is a look in the eye of sad subject that
could easily feed 5,000 of the city's pital and three in another. translates into a desperate call for
inhabitants for one day, it's essential As the producer, I let the people sympathy.
to carry yourself with some tact. As who were best at their jobs do their In real time - without a lens -
a group, we succeeded in doing so jobs, and I enjoyed the luxury of the thin layer of moisture covering
while working on location. We main- leaving my camera at home. For the the shape of the eye doesn't ask for
tained a strict rule of only keeping first week, however. I ached for my understanding. but instead screams
of embarrassed disdain.
I stopped caring about missing the
photographic opportunities these
moments offered. For the first time, I
saw without the filter of a lens.
During our time in Tanzania we
took a short, 36-hour vacation to
Zanzibar, a place possessing the kind
of beauty that should only be allowed
in dreams. I was the sole member of
the group to leave my camera behind.
We trekked through the city all
day and walked to the beach for din-
ner as the sun set.
There is probably a scientific rea-
son why the same sun I've always
seen is so much more stunning in
Africa, but I don't know it. It was a
sunset that begged with every ray to
be photographed - hundreds of peo-
ple overlooking the pier were silhou-
I hung back and spoke with our
guide while the rest of the group
snapped for the best shot. I began to
feel something I still can't explain
as I looked at the people above the
Not knowing exactly why, I quick-
ly and quietly approached each mem-
ber of our group and told them to put
their cameras down.
Lowering their cameras, the group
retreated. Then I joined the Tanza-
nians overlooking the water to find
a dead, drowned body float closer
to the beach, one of 50 that had
drowned after a cargo ship sank not
far off the coast.
I came back to the Daily as a pho-
tojournalist unable to shake this-sort
of experience from my consciousness
- I envy and respect the photojour-
nalist that could have.
It is that kind of photojournalist
that presses on in an effort to give the
public the truest visual information
from the most difficult circumstanc-
es. All that's left for me is document-
ing my own life, and the seemingly
futile enterprise of creating mean-
- Zachary Meisner was the Daily's
co-managing photo editor in 2009.
Patients waiting at an eye clinic in Dar es Salaam, Tanzia. The clinic evaluates patients for subsidized cataracts surgery.
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