Photo Essay

Photography and Emotion, Covering the unthinkable

The Grieving Widow

June 17, 2008 NC State Trooper Shawn Blanton lost his life during a routine traffic stop on the shoulder of I-40. I documented the events that followed. I found myself unprepared. Saturday June 21, 2008 I arrived at Lake Junaluska, NC to document the memorial service. There was a funereal procession lead by State Police Motorcycles, bagpiper, priest, a dozen State Troopers, The NCHP Caisson Unit who carries the casket in presidential fashion with two horses and "the buggy" and a third horse who symbolized the fallen Trooper. My job, to capture the emotion of the event.

Though the following may or may not be about "Photography" per say it is about the emotion surrounding an event that I shot:

The sheer magnitude of emotion shook me to the core. Though it was my job to document this incredible event to the best of my ability for news and historical purposes, this did not make it an ounce less heavy for my heart.

I was not only a witness to the event, but rather a witness to the pain being experienced by his wife, family, friends and fellow officers. I was awestruck to witness the procession, his flag covered casket in the morning sun being carried by a horse drawn carriage, the deafening silence that engulfed the scene, with tears on the cheeks of so many, the carriage reached its destination in front of the Stuart Auditorium with hundreds of officers at full attention, the horse symbolizing Trooper Blantons last ride 'whinnied' as if to say the officer they just carried was headed home.

The standing room only crowd inside the auditorium was a testament to Trooper Blantons life. Though I did not have the opportunity to ever talk with him I could simple see that he must have been the hero that the minister talked about.

"Not a hero for dying, but rather a hero for living while alive," the minister said.

They carried him to Cherokee to his final resting place. He was honored with a 21 gun solute. Let me tell you, I had never heard loss or sadness until the tone and final call were made that Saturday afternoon.

The question is, at what point do you lower your camera and allow the grieving widow to grieve in peace. And when do you decide to actuate your shutter to capture that moment in time. During the events described above, more than once I found myself overcome with emotion and asking those very questions. Once as the widow eyes actually looked straight through my lens I found myself asking questions never faced with. These are very personal choices that each of us as photographers must make. In the end I attended the graveside services and documented the events as they unfolded. Hopefully with the respect deserved by those who had experience such a loss.

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