Shooter

I just finished a book called Shooter, by photojournalist David Hume Kennerly. I picked it up after seeing it recommended by Mr Hobby, and it’s one of those rare books that never gets boring.

This is because Kennerly has had quite the life. Assuming it’s all true, I’m astonished he’s not long dead. He started out photographing fires for his local paper, then became a general news photographer in Los Angeles, hairing to the scene of any and every crisis and somehow talking his way into its centre. Then it was some years in Vietnam, where he had countless close shaves involving bullets, from all sides, and eventually won the Pulitzer Prize. After Vietnam he became close friends with Gerald Ford, resulting in his being appointed official White House Photographer, with pretty much unfettered access to the administration. Then…well, it continues.

The guy must have the charm of the devil. Many of his stories involve him cajoling someone into helping him, or running into an old colleague/friend who gets him through the door. An introduction The Digital Journalist says Kennerly makes it seem effortless, but it’s actually extremely hard work:

In his address book he carries not only contact numbers, but birthdays, and will religiously send cards to the people he has photographed from locations all over the world.

And this is all very he-did-what?! But then comes the biggest surprise of all, when, during his time with President Ford, he turns 28. Bastard.

I imagine every reader finds themselves daydreaming about dropping it all and following in Kennerly’s footsteps. It’s the life you want to have had – not necessarily before you’re, you know, thirty, that’s just taking the piss – but reality seems to suggest could never happen. I don’t think I’m suited to photojournalism – 25 and I still get nervous making phone calls, baby – but I found myself thinking of local papers I could apply to.

I looked him up on Wikipedia this afternoon, and was a bit nervous. The book was published in 1979. There have been a lot of wars since then, and someone’s luck can only last so long – had he made it? I was happy to discover he’s still going, and his website has images of Rumsfeld touring Abu Ghraib, so he’s clearly still in the thick of it. Amazing.

I can’t recommend Shooter enough. It’s nicely written, totally inspiring if you’re into that kind of thing (but light on the technical aspects if you’re not) and generally enthralling. I defy you not to finish it liking the guy.