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Photo and Story by Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

tucsonchildwithgun

Always be ready for that perfect photo, a remarkable shot that stops people on the page and tells a dramatic story.

It is March 14th, 2011. I live in Tucson, Arizona. Just two months ago on January 8th, U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords and eighteen others are shot by a mentally ill man at a strip mall about nine miles north of this bus stop. The President of the United States visits Tucson four days later on January 12th for a memorial service to the victims. I attend his speech in person. He makes an impassioned plea for a review of gun laws.

The argument about gun laws in the United States is raging. There are very few laws governing gun ownership in Arizona. If you want to carry a gun, you simply strap it on your hip.  There is a dangerous border crossing with Mexico to the south, and drug trafficking is widespread. Tucson truly is the “wild west”.

I don’t own a car in Tucson so I either commute by bus or ride my bike. I worked late tonight so I am taking the bus home. Tucson has no street lights. Riding after dark can be dangerous.

This bus stop is crowded. Another bus has just dropped off passengers making a transfer. Civilian employees from the nearby Davis-Monthan Air Force Base are leaving work. There is also a secondary vocational training facility at this intersection that has just let out.

A man in a dark grey hooded sweatshirt is carrying a backpack. He is accompanied by a child. He seems nervous and fidgety. He keeps looking for the bus to come, but there are at least ten minutes until its scheduled stop. He removes his backpack, places it on the bus stop bench and pulls a cell phone out of the open pack. He tells the girl to sit on the bench, steps toward the curb and begins texting.

Suddenly the girl is holding an automatic pistol on him. A red spot of laser light- from the pistol’s aiming device- appears exactly center-mass on the man. He does not see the girl is pointing a gun at him.

Her finger is on the trigger.

The gun may be a toy. It may not be. Having a real laser sight on it suggests it is not a toy. It is heavy because the little girl has a difficult time handling it.

I raise my Apple iPhone and shoot one photo. You see that photo here.

There is a panic when the man looks up, a woman next to the girl recoils in stunned reaction. The man wheels and crouches away from the red laser dot, then advances toward the little girl, scooping the gun away from her.

I retreat back across the street to a convenience store as voices are raised. I am not sure if anyone saw me shoot the photo, and, I would prefer not to be shot.

My photo runs in a CNN article about gun control. It is widely circulated on social media, seen by millions of people. the debate about gun laws rages on in the United States.

Years ago I read a National Geographic book about photojournalism. It showed Robert Capa’s famous D-Day photos, blurry and indistinct. The book used those examples of how the technical merits of a photo are sometimes secondary to the subject matter. That book was why I decided to shoot this photo with my phone. Because, while that real or toy gun at a Tucson bus stop scared a few people, my smartphone snapshot scared millions.

 

 

 

 

Photo and Story by Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

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Ambergris Caye Island, 13 miles off the eastern coast of Belize, sits just inside a reef line separated from the deep, open Caribbean. The waters that surround the island inside its barrier reef are shallow, calm, warm, clear and protected. Beyond them lies the wild sea.

I’ve been to Ambergris Cay several times. It is one of my favorite places on earth. I shot this photo the day I was flying home from a dive trip there. It’s an old photo, shot on film maybe 20 years ago, but it remains one of my favorite because it says so much about life, adventure, decisions and this place.

Several young lads native to the island were playing in the water, as they always do. The kids on Ambergris Caye grow up with a respect for the sea, but they do not fear it. Sharks are stray dogs, rays are friendly cats. The sea gives in the form of tourist dollars, and it takes in the form of hurricanes and accidents. It is a part of life on the island.

The boy trudged through the sandy weeds out into the water, flopped himself underwater in an exaggerated splash, then ran back to shallow water and did it again. He was experimenting with going farther out into the unknown, into the deep water, toward the open ocean.

When I got home I looked at the photo, one from a sequence, and realized it was breathtaking. The sky vaulted above in a moving expanse that inferred the infinite. The sea changed colors from light to dark as the sand plunged over the reef and dropped into an abyss. And the boy trudged into the unknown with a youthful assertiveness that suggests courage.

And so the image of this young lad bravely walking out to sea has become an inspiration to me. The sea, like life, is a frightening and unforgiving place. But it is also filled with wonder and beauty, bounty and abundance.

I have no idea who the boy was. He is probably nearly 30 years old now. He may still live on the island, he may have left. I do not know what happened once he continued his metaphorical journey out to sea. I know my journey has taken me through terrible storms, across deep water and to remarkable paradise. And so the journey out to sea continues.

Photo and Story by Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com.

wronglap

I moved to California five years ago to take a job with Felt Bicycles in Irvine. Didn’t have a car there so didn’t get around much. Friend and co-worker Dave Koesel asked me if I wanted to go with him to the Dana Point Gran Prix bike race not far away in the seaside community of Dana Point. It seemed like a good photo opportunity and a decent way to spend a day by the ocean.

I lived in Mission Viejo, California. It was dreadfully boring, with million-dollar houses and apartments packed together near manmade lakes ringed by planted palms. Living there is like being trapped inside a titanic, city-sized strip mall. Southern California is really one massive strip mall that begins north of Los Angeles near Santa Clarita and extends for miles south below Mission Viejo where the giant strip mall is briefly interrupted by the U.S. Marine base at Camp Pendleton, then the huge, connected strip mall of manufactured houses, condos, apartments and retail gallerias begins again north of San Diego. Viewed from space its a massive tapestry of buildings crammed together like a human ant colony. The freeways are slow-moving ant trails of BMW’s, Mercedes, Porsches and an increasing number of Teslas that skirt the coast moving at a crawl. It’s perforated by the San Andreas Fault at the base of the San Gabriel mountain range to the east. One day the “Big One” will hit and the entire thing will submerge in an earthquake likely to be the largest natural disaster in human history. But this is L.A., and people only think $2500 weekly paycheck to paycheck, an income which is lower middle class in this area. So no one cares that geology and plate tectonics has guaranteed that one day they’ll be swimming with the fishes.

Dana Point was probably a quaint SoCal surfer town before the marketing of Southern California made it a combination of a life-size PacSun, H&M and Forever 21 store with no parking. But nonetheless, today there is a bike race.

The Dana Point Gran Prix is a classic American bike race, a “criterium”, a race on a short, closed circuit with multiple turns per lap. It’s a great way to see a bicycle race since most criteriums are in a downtown area where there are crowds, restaurants, coffee shops and bars. The races are held in respective categories of riders based on age and ability level.

This race is the “Senior Pro, 1,2” race. It’s the fast guys. The low-level pros and the elite level amateurs and the local hot shot racers. Since this is Southern California there are a lot of hot shot locals, not all local to So-Cal.

The race progresses over successive laps and it looks like it will all stay together, no small groups or “breakaways” getting away today. Until the final laps.

One of the guys fighting for position at the front of this race is Karl Bordine. Bordine is bigger than most bike racers. He weighs nearly 190 pounds and is well over six feet tall. He is also a time trial or solo ride specialist and, even more remarkably for a bike racer in a criterium, Bordine is a triathlete. Mostly, Bordine is a little of everything. He can run, swim and bike, he can time trial and he can stay at the front of an elite level criterium like Dana Point.

And staying at the front is exactly what Bordine is doing right now.

I’m walking the course backwards from the flow of riders, the best way to watch a criterium, and shooting with two Canon EOS cameras. One camera has a 100-400mm image stabilized zoom lens, the other a workhorse 28-135mm zoom. With these two lenses you can do almost everything in sports photography.

There are three laps to go. There have been some breakaways and the group has just reeled one of them in. The race is now “gruppo compacto” or one big group of riders hurtling around the circuit over 30 MPH as they enter the penultimate lap.

In criteriums and track racing the final lap is signaled by ringing a loud bell, hence “bell lap”. While Bordine knows this he also knows his chances for a win are not in a straight-up bunch sprint. Those outcomes fall to the specialty riders with dare-devil bike handling skills and hair trigger acceleration out of the final corner on the last lap. That’s not Bordine. He is a “stayer”, not a “sprinter”. So he makes his try for the line early. Very early.

Bordine churns off the front of the pack by himself at 35 MPH. He has less than three laps to go. It’s unlikely he’ll survive without being caught. It’s the classic all-or-nothing gamble, but it’s Bordine’s best bet.

Initially it looks good. He is a bull of a man, beating his pedals and the air around him into submission. But at each turn he has to back off briefly to avoid crashing in the corners and then reaccelerate to full race speed. That effort does not suit the diesel-like Bordine. So his initially dramatic gap begins to slowly erode, the pack making progress like a virus toward healthy flesh.

Funny things happen to a bike racer at full effort. Blood is shunted to the muscles, their heart beats at 180 beats per minute, three full contractions per second. As a result the mind becomes very simple. There is only one thought; go.

So Karl Bordine makes a critical error, especially for a champion. He forgets to read the lap board at the start/finish line that counts down the remaining laps. He also fails to listen for the final lap bell.

As a result, Bordine believes he is winning on the final lap, with a big enough gap, just barely, to stay away.

Karl Bordine comes out of turn number 6 out of the saddle, the last of his legs being spent in final standing pedal thrusts slightly uphill toward what he believes is victory. The pack behind him has done the calculus and knows they will apprehend him on the last lap, somewhere on the backside of the course, where he will be unceremoniously spit out the back like trash in the vortex of a speeding train.

Bordine raises his arms in victory. And the bell rings, the bell signaling one lap to go. Karl Bordine has blown the lap count, sprinted a full lap too early, and lost the race before over a thousand spectators in dramatic style. It is one for the blooper reel.

When the USA Cycling Official raises his finger to indicate “one lap to go” as the bell clangs loudly Bordine realizes his error and that there is no use in even trying. Instead he clowns with the official, and I fire off a series of shots through my Canon.

This photo is the best one. And it shows that, no matter how fast an athlete is, no matter how good their legs and lungs are, that races also won between the ears.

Here is the entire original photo from that day:

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