By MICHAEL PERKINS
I COULD HAVE RETIRED VERY COMFORTABLY ON THE SUM CREATED BY EARNING A NICKEL for every time I’ve brought the wrong lens to an event. Few photographers want to spend a day sauntering around with every single hunk of glass they own strapped to their back, and so, in anticipation of a given happening, many of us choose one lens which probably will address most of our needs. You really feel like the Wizard Of Cameras when you guess right. And you “make do” when you guess wrong (and you will).
A recent political rally in Phoenix, Arizona for senatorial candidate Mark Kelly is an example of me bringing a knife to a gun fight. The venue was the large suburban campus of an area church, a place where I’d previously attended various get-out-the-vote events in the recent past and which I assumed I knew pretty well. I decided to use a 24mm wide-angle prime to get the attending crowd for the former astronaut into the shots, emphasizing the turnout, a strategy what would have worked in the smaller multi-function rooms where past meetings had taken place. Upon arriving, however, I realized that, since attendance was anticipated to be very high, the Kelly rally would instead take place in the church’s main tabernacle, a space roughly three times the size of the space I was accustomed to. Having no control over where I’d be seated, I found myself in a pretty cavernous room, quite a distance from the stage. The wide-angle was now going to emphasize my separation from the front, and, without the option for zooming, make facial work pretty nigh impossible. Bright idea, wrong tool.
I decided to snap away nonetheless, since, after all, Kelly was accompanied by his heroic wife, former Representative Gabby Giffords, who is still recovering from the attempt on her life during just such a gathering in Tucson in 2001. Her survival was largely a matter of luck and inches, along with the miraculous efforts of the attending surgeons, but, years after the gunshots have subsided, she is still adjusting to her new normal, which includes partial impairment of her speech and the effective loss of use in her right arm. The astounding grit that it takes to accompany Mark on the road in the selfsame gatherings that nearly cost her her life is enough to make God himself humble. I certainly couldn’t show the mental component of that struggle in what amounted to a few casual and technically limited snapshots, but, in reviewing the images later, I saw something that almost measured a bit of its surface effect.
In the shot you see here, Gabby has almost been introduced by the lady at the left and is preparing to come to the podium for a very brief exhortation to the crowd. She is seen setting her water bottle (a constant must in Arizona from March to October, even indoors) onto a table with her left hand. A perfectly ordinary gesture, until you realize that she’s doing so to free up the one good hand she has left, a hand that has, of necessity, become her go-to for writing, pressing the flesh with amazed crowds, and…. holding a microphone. Seconds after this was snapped, she walked up and made one of the characteristically short introductions that she has delivered for speakers across the nation since she was attacked, partnering in various life-affirming enterprises that have increased exponentially even as she has been forced to work from within a greatly reduced physical envelope. After Mark’s stump speech, the pair spent close to an hour posing for pictures and shaking hands with strangers. The vulnerability of the two in that setting was both inspiring and terrifying.
And so, even on a day when I made mostly bad photographic choices, I am grateful for this unremarkable picture of a remarkable team. I think I need to keep it close at hand the next time I am tempted to bellyache about….well, anything.