By M. Scott Morris | NEMS Daily Journal
Photojournalists capture moments, but not every moment finds a place in the Mighty Daily Journal. The newspaper’s three photographers, Thomas Wells, C.Todd Sherman and Deste Lee, spanned Northeast Mississippi in 2011, and you’ve had chances to see most of their best efforts. But sometimes a great photograph doesn’t fit with the story, so another shot runs in its place. Today, three of those not-quite-right images get second chances.
Lee was courtside in February, when the Mississippi State University Bulldogs and the University of Mississippi Rebels were playing basketball.
Football Coach Dan Mullen was there, and Lee noticed he was wearing the same shirt as his boss, Athletic Director Scott Stricklin. More importantly, she realized Mullen also had noticed the wardrobe coincidence.
“I’ve covered Mullen for a while, so I knew he was going to go and joke about it,” she said.
She watched the game and kept checking on Mullen as he made his way to Stricklin. Lee doesn’t know the exact nature of Mullen’s joke, but she was thrilled to catch both of their reactions.
“Dan Mullen seems to be a good bit more amused by it than Scott Stricklin,” she said. “You can tell Stricklin is like, ‘Aw, dang, I didn’t know it was dress like your boss day.’”
This photo didn’t make the paper, but it stood out in Lee’s mind.
“It cracks me up still, looking at it and their different reactions,” she said.
The photo fits one of the basic tenants of photojournalism.
“Action and emotion,” she said. “You try to get one or the other.”
Wells went to Church Street Elementary School in Tupelo in May for the last day of school. It also was the last day Church Street was an elementary school. He captured seven or eight images that day.
“The editors decided to run a girl cleaning out her locker and sitting on the floor, throwing old papers away,” he said.
But he preferred another image that he caught as he was leaving.
“I was about 20 feet from my Jeep, and I saw this girl dragging a bag along the walkway,” Wells said. “She was struggling, but she was clearly having a good time.”
The bag looks as though it weighs more than she does, and the photo is framed by a pair of school buses that tower over her.
“The second bus just showed up when I was taking it,” he said. “It was just one of those right place, right time things.”
No stranger to end-of-the-year shots at school, Wells said he went to Church Street with certain expectations. This shot wasn’t one of them.
“Photos like this are the ones you really remember,” he said. “It’s not the ones you set up or the ones that showcase your artistic ability. It’s the ones where you had to be there. If you hadn’t been there, you never would have seen it.”
There’s nothing about the shot that says, “Church Street,” so it didn’t make the paper.
“I understood the reason,” Wells said, “but that’s a funny picture.”
Mount Vernon trouble
Sherman wanted people to know that he was conflicted about choosing a photo of a fire. No one was killed in the October blaze at Mount Vernon Samples polyfoam plant, but it was a nasty event.
“You hate to use a photo like this in a ‘best of’ list because you know it’s not the best for the people involved,” he said.
Sherman said shooting a fire is a rarity in Northeast Mississippi because fire departments are so good at their jobs.
“Usually by the time we show up, the flames are out,” he said.
He’d finished another assignment and got a call from the office. He followed the smoke and was surprised to find the building fully ablaze.
“I heard one of the fire captains say, ‘The building is gone. Let’s just keep it safe,’” he said.
The newspaper ran a different shot from a similar angle, but Sherman preferred this one because the fire inside the metal building pops against the distressed blue of the walls.
A firefighter has an ax and he’s clearly cutting a hole in the wall, providing two other firefighters an access point to spray water.
While standing safely away in a cotton field, Sherman caught the firefighters at work.
“This photo is the result of staying there and working with the elements and seeing what happens,” he said. “If it wasn’t photojournalism, it would be easy to use a computer to widen the hole or make the flames bigger, but in photojournalism, you play the ball where it lies.”