In new documentary, snapshots of photojournalists on the job
"I think I've been pretty lucky so far," she says over the film's opening images of her clad in a flak jacket, helmet and gas mask in the West Bank town of Ramallah, photographing Palestinian protesters clashing with Israeli soldiers. "I've had a couple, like, concussion grenades go off at my feet, but that didn't affect me."
Todras-Whitehill goes on to explain, rather matter-of-factly, how she deals with rubber bullets, tear gas and unruly crowds. She adds, "You sort of have to decide how important the picture is," but one gets the sense that for her and her peers it's always pretty important.
The hourlong film, which is to screen Tuesday at UCLA, follows a dozen Associated Press photographers on assignment in eight countries, covering such events as the Tour de France, the British prime minister leaving 10 Downing Street, wildfires in Southern California, a New York Knicks game at Madison Square Garden and Good Friday services at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
"Deadline Every Second" was shot and directed by Ken Kobre, a veteran photographer and photo editor who teaches photojournalism at San Francisco State University.
"I had always wanted to be able to show how daily journalism gets done," said Kobre, 66, on the phone from San Francisco.
"Quite often what happens is photographers take a picture and it becomes iconic, and then they talk about what they did or what it was like," he said. "But you actually never get to see them as they're really working."
While making the film, Kobre served as his own one-man crew and shot alongside his subjects, who were rigged with microphones and often described their thought processes while working. Kobre also brought them in later to view and reflect on the footage.
The film mostly takes a fly-on-the-wall approach, with few talking-head interviews and no narrator. Rather than following an overarching narrative, it is made up of a series of short vignettes that demonstrate the diversity of events a photojournalist might be called on to cover.
One of the qualities Kobre found most striking in his subjects was "their ability to go from being a top-notch sports photographer one hour and then being able to jump on a plane and cover Haiti and the earthquake in the next hour."
As the title indicates, "Deadline Every Second" glimpses the frantic demands of a nonstop news cycle, as the photographers hustle to download their pictures to laptops and transmit them across the globe, even from remote locations.
In telling moments, the film also conveys a sense of both the determination and the detachment that photojournalists adhere to, particularly when surrounded by chaos, tragedy, emotion or danger.
As photographer Oded Balilty says during another instance of Palestinian-Israeli clashes in a village outside Jerusalem, "You leave all this behind, because you concentrate on the images and you concentrate on telling the story."
"Deadline Every Second" is scheduled to screen at UCLA's Ackerman Student Union at 7 p.m. Tuesday. A panel discussion with Kobre and photojournalists featured in the film is to follow. Admission is free, but RSVP to email@example.com.
-- Oliver Gettell
Photo: Ken Kobre shooting "Deadline Every Second." Credit: Oded Balilty