Sunday, October 7, 2012

Mellow Yellow

“Old age, believe me, is a good and pleasant thing. It is true you are gently shouldered off the stage, but then you are given such a comfortable front stall as spectator.” (Confucius)

I collapsed into my comfy chair this afternoon to metatag some digital files for a magazine submission. My fall photo schedule was supposed to include climbing a couple of mountains. Instead, I found myself laying around the house for most of September, trying to rehab a minor knee injury without paying some young, hot-shot surgeon.

Old, yellowed tearsheets
My old, yellowed tearsheets
Jump-starting my old computer, I saw that the Florida-LSU football game was about to kick off. Hmmm. I used to shoot that game for a newspaper every other year, when it was played in Gainesville. The more I watched the less I worked.

My, how we have changed since the early 1980s. Back then I was a hot-shot racquetball addict, shooting for my first newspaper, and everyone I worked around was older then me. When I was a shooter, none of these current Gator players were even born. Now I'm nine years older than their head coach. What happened to us all?

The Florida Gators have fared well over the last 30 years or so, but back in the day they were still up and coming. Head coach Charlie Pell turned a winless 1979 season into an 8-4 record the next year. Pell eventually got run out of town for 59 NCAA infractions. After his firing, Pell was unable to find another college coaching job. He suffered from clinical depression and even attempted suicide. He ended up working in real estate, and in 2001 Pell died of lung cancer.

Back in 1982, Florida quarterback Wayne Peace was on the throwing end of "The Catch" that beat the mighty Miami Hurricanes. Nowadays he sells hurricane insurance and coaches high school football. Kerwin Bell went on to play in the National, World and Canadian football leagues. Bell only threw five NFL passes - completing all of them - and nowadays he coaches football at a small university in Jacksonville.

The Gator's ferocious linebacker, Wilbur Marshall, starred in the NFL but didn't fare so well in retirement. He was a major cog in Super Bowl wins with the Chicago Bears and Washington Redskins, and was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Year in 1992. But in retirement he suffered from years of football injuries and declining health that left him permanently disabled and, eventually, bankrupt.

One of my old black and white prints that I have stored away, somewhere around here, is a photo of Marshall leaping at Georgia running back, Herschel Walker, with both players in mid-air. Walker plagued the Gators, beating them every year that he played. Walker was a natural to photograph, but I hated what he did to my old Gators.

Herschel Walker surrounded by reporters in the locker room
Herschel Walker surrounded by reporters in the locker room

Walker is still doing well on the physical side of things. Three months older than myself, he still follows a daily regimen of 3,500 sit-ups, 1,500 push-ups and an eight-mile run. He was once named the best college running back of all time, and he's still in the NFL record books in several categories. But in 2008 Walker revealed that he's being treated for "multiple personality disorder."  Meanwhile, I've lost my knees, ankles and hands to arthritis. I sit up in bed, and push my way up to the breakfast table, but I don't run anywhere anymore.

Another former Georgia player, Will Muschamp, is now Florida's head coach. He looked like a teenager today, pacing the sidelines during the LSU game. The commentators also mentioned Florida's offensive coordinator, Brent Pease, several times. That name sounded so familiar. Where do I know him from? I had to jog my memory with a Google search, then realized that he was the Montana Grizzlies' quarterback in 1986. I was photographing the Grizzlies for another newspaper in 1991 when Pease returned to Montana as an assistant coach. Nowadays he's a hot commodity down in Gainesville, no doubt destined to grow into a head coach some day.

Of all these people brought to mind by the football game today, some are rising, some have fallen, and some are gone. But many of the people I photographed seem to have returned to leading relatively quiet lives, much like me. Looking at them and trying to rate my life is pointless. I could have stuck to journalism and done pretty well. But would I have been happier and healthier or, like some of these football players, would it have taken a physical toll? It's hard to say, but I suspect that the chronic stress from deadline-driven newspapering would have knocked me off at a young age.

Photography itself has grown into something that barely resembles its previous incarnation. Nowadays we have far fewer paid journalists, but way more people toting digital camera gear that's far better than anything we worked with back in the '80s. Following my mentor's lead, I experimented and taught myself to do things with Tri-X film that most people didn't know how to do. Nowadays, I experiment with slightly different shooting methods and digital editing techniques to produce images that are (hopefully) hard for others to duplicate. In other words, I'm unique - just like everyone else.

I feel like I'm better off for moving over into the slow lane. But is photography better off today than it was back then? I'm tempted to say, "yes," because we can do so much more on the editing side of things. But really, they are two different animals. Film photography was more like the patient, slow-moving me. Digital photography is the lightning-quick and flexible youth that is growing so fast that it looks different week to week. It's interesting to kick back in my comfy chair and - between naps - watch how digital photography changes as it grows.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, this post brought back some memories. Thanks for that, John.