Shoulders

A camera swings from over his shoulder, clanging against his hip as he climbs the grueling 400 foot ski jump to get the shot. He runs up, perhaps just a bit slower than the athletes, who trail him by mere minutes. Feet brace against the boards to keep from sliding down with gravity’s pull. Awkward always is his position; arms, legs, and torso wrenched in some contortion while his breath catches up to his pounding heart. Pulling the camera from his side, he brings it up to his eye, squints through the viewfinder, and takes the shot.

His whole day will look like some version of this; chasing the next frame, waiting to jump on the next opportunity. Truth be told, each job follows a similar pattern. Bust tail in this industry, with fierce competition all around, to create an opportunity. Sometimes it pays off; sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes he gets caught in bad weather with crummy light and equipment that doesn’t want to work. Other times he’s hauling cases of gear miles thru a busy airport at an ungodly hour, only to find out the flight is delayed. It’s hours on his feet followed by hours of staring at a screen until his eyes are bleary. It’s the disappointment of an estimate falling through or the stress of a paycheck that never got cut. It’s marketing and branding and editing and production and jetlag all the while wondering how many pairs of shoes we’ll have to buy for growing feet next season. It rarely comes easy. And the burden falls on him.

Years ago when I first met him, the only thing on his shoulder was a camera. There it hung, shiny and proud, like a medal of all he had achieved and a promise of where he was going. His work was his life and his life was his work. But now he is wiser. And busier. And more twisted up with knots.

He shoulders bigger burdens now, ones that are not as glamorous as a sleek, black camera. He’s a resting place for my weary head and a rock of fatherly protection for our kids. Our babies have spent many a fussy night draped over Daddy’s shoulder, only to leave him sore and sleepless by morning when he returns to the work again, ready to brace himself for the next opportunity despite the exhaustion we leave him with each day. Every frame he takes is provision for our family; it’s food on the table and a roof overhead.

And so camera still hangs over his shoulders, and it’s more important now than its ever been. But it’s status has changed. And while his photographs may reflect a reasonably successful career, they don’t show what he really does. Because what he does is walk miles and climb mountains and lose sleep for us. So that when he gets home he can chase the toddler and navigate the landscape of parenting big kids and stay up late listening to a wife who is as tired and starved for connection as he is.

It’s easy to see the allure of his job. The cool places he gets to travel to, the fancy gear he sports around, the influence his job carries, and the interesting people he meets. But only a few of us see the sacrifice behind the shot; the things he laid down to be who he is. It’s the sacred vocation of manhood that he humbly, and with honor, embraces. A lesson to his children and a gift to his wife.

Yes, the camera still hangs from his shoulders. But now those same shoulders that carry his camera, they also carry his life. Because really, it’s on his shoulder that we all ride.

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