This is a joke, Kyle thought to himself. It has to be. That’s all there is to it! As Kyle stood in the middle of the long stretch of cracked-ground desert, he shook his head in defeat as he watched the sun continue to set in the west – the sun just beginning to kiss the horizon. “Simple assignment, my ass,” he muttered to no one in particular.
It had seemed like a simple enough assignment for him to get his feet wet with as a rookie photographer for the local paper he had just started with – find and photograph an example of how life persevered in the desert. But not just any life, he thought, as he sarcastically recalled the words of his editor. Oh no – it has to be ‘something unique.’ And, is if that wasn’t bad enough, the old man had to send me out with a camera that actually uses film. FILM for God’s sake!
Kyle had spent the better part of the entire day – literally from sunrise to sunset – trying to find something that struggled to survive in the desert, something that was unique in the rather harsh setting. He had spent the entire day going from one sun baked portion of the desert to another, trying to find something that might fit the bill. He would watch as all varieties of desert insects would fight and struggle and kill for survival, taking pictures here and there where he thought the setting, angle and lighting were just right. He did the same for the desert plants and flowers he saw, as well as the many cacti he found as he drove from one location to the next. Each and every time, he would also check his phone to see if what he was snapping a shot of was unique to desert life. Not once was he in luck, as every entry told him that either that animal or that plant, while having to fight for survival, was not unique to that kind of life in the desert. He even risked getting a shot of a sidewinder getting a drink of water in a stray puddle of water – and almost being bitten in the process – just to get an ‘exciting’ shot. All day long, one location to the next, one plant to the next, one animal to the next, Kyle searched. Each time, the result was the same – nothing that proved to be unique. And, with only 24 frames to work with in the only roll of film he had in the outmoded camera in his hands, he knew he didn’t have many opportunities.
As the sun set more on the western horizon, he sat heavily on a nearby rock – soreness having dominated his legs and feet as he felt the constant throbs of pain on the soles of his feet, despite the promise of comfort the boots he had bought had claimed. He absently looked at the time on his phone and saw that it was past 8 PM. Great, Kyle grumbled internally. My first and last assignment. Shortest job I’ll have ever had. He looked over to his right and happened to catch a glance of a dandelion growing out of one of the cracks in the desert bed. Against the stark beige of the cracked ground, it was a small, vibrant distraction with its deep yellow petals and the verdant green stalk on which it all rested. Kyle knew he had one frame left on the camera film and thought, what the hell, right? He brought the camera up to his face, peered through the viewfinder, adjusted the f-stop and focus and snapped the picture of the lone dandelion standing in the hard dirt as the long shadow stretched in front of it from the low sun on the horizon. He then packed the camera away and walked back to the car – feet wincing in pain with each step.
The next morning, Kyle woke up and went through his morning routine of showering, shaving and dressing as the dread of facing his editor grew with each passing second. Kyle knew that he had not even come close to meeting his editor’s expectations with the photos he had taken. He had almost decided not to even get the photos developed and just turning in the camera, along with a resignation, to the HR office and calling it a day. However, Kyle was reminded of something that had been drilled into his mind by his father for so many years. Always see a job through to the end, his father would tell him, for better or worse. “What’s the worst they can do?” he said with a shrug to his face in the bathroom mirror. “Fire me?” He let out a small, wry chuckle at his own forced humor, and then finished shaving. He then donned his best business casual clothes, grabbed up his satchel and walked out of his apartment.
The Uber ride to work seemed to go too fast in Kyle’s opinion as he opened the door and exited the compact he had ended up riding in. Before him stood the ten story building that was his place of employment. You can still just drop the camera off and walk away, a voice in Kyle’s mind told him. His response was to shift the satchel slung over his right arm and walk into the building. The front desk guard simply looked up from his newspaper and acknowledged Kyle with a wry smile. Kyle nodded his head at the geriatric security guard and made for the elevators beyond. He was fortunate enough the get an elevator car to himself as he rode it to the fourth floor, where photos were turned in to be developed. He dropped of the roll of film without as much as a good morning, and was told that they would be ready in two hours. Great, Kyle thought, depressively. I get to wait a whole two hours before I lose my job. Kyle simply gave a mock, two-fingered salute to the young, female photo lab tech and walked back to the elevators.
Kyle exited the elevators and made his way into the “bullpen,” as the area cluttered with reporters and photographer’s desk was affectionately called by the occupants of said desks. There had to easily have been three to four dozen such desks in this area, taking up the entirety of the floor. Kyle finally arrived through the maze at his desk and turned on the minimally functional, out-of-date computer that adorned the top of his desk. The next two hours were spent checking various interdepartmental emails that flowed back and forth from one section of newspaper operations to the next – most of which did not apply to him directly, save for one. He opened the email and saw that it was a preview of the copy that had been prepared for the human interest story his photograph would be placed in. He noticed how the section reserved for the photograph was still lacking text. Guess they’ll write something for whatever I find, Kyle thought. Or, in this case, they’ll delete it all together. As he perused the text already present for the rest of the story, Kyle saw out of the corner of his eye the same young, female photo lab tech he had dropped of his film with earlier. She walked up to his desk and set down a brown photo envelope on his keyboard. She then handed him a small clipboard with a release form attached for him to sign. Kyle grabbed a pen from the top draw and scrawled his requisite signature. As the lab tech began to walk away, Kyle said, “Hey!”
The lab tech stooped in mid stride and turned around to face Kyle. The short-haired blonde woman gave him an expression as if to say, “Yes?”
“Sorry about being a jerk earlier,” he said, sincerely. “Just not a good morning. Sorry if I took it out on you.”
The girl gave a crooked grin and replied, “No worries. Everybody has one. Hope yours gets better.” She then smiled thinly, turned around and resumed her stride.
Kyle looked down at the envelope and emptied the developed photos, all in black-and-white, on to the surface of his desk. He thumbed through each one with mild approval of the results. They all look good, he thought as he thumbed through each one in turn. Too bad they won’t be what he wants.
After giving the photos a final skim, Kyle gathered up his work and walked to the editor’s office near the elevators – photos in hand. As he reached the door to the windowed office, his hand was already extended as he wrapped his knuckles on the glass door. “It’s open,” Kyle heard the voice of the middle aged man say from the other side. Kyle then opened the door and stepped inside to face his inevitable fate. The heavy semi-slamming of the door behind him did nothing to bolster any confidence he might have had.
The man behind the desk wore a white, short-sleeved dress shirt with gray dress pants and a simple black tie, loosely tied at the neck. He looked to be in his mid to late forties with thinning hair with a desktop that to say was cluttered would be giving it credit. He finished signing some document, then looked up at Kyle and said, “Kyle, right? The new photographer?”
“Yes, sir,” Kyle said, mustering up as much courage as he could.
The editor simply nodded and looked at the hand that held Kyle’s photos. He then motioned his hand and said, “Let’s see what you got kid.”
Kyle handed the photos to his editor and stood silently. After a moment of thumbing through the photos, his editor looked up at him and said, “Go ahead and sit down.”
Kyle sat in one of the chairs in front of his editor’s desk, stiff as a board. Just hurry up and get it over with, Kyle thought to himself as he nervously watched his boss peruse his work.
Towards the end of the stack of photos, the grizzled editor stopped to look more carefully at the last one. After what seemed like an agonizing eternity for Kyle, the editor looked at Kyle and said, “What’s the story with this?”
Kyle saw that it was the shot of the dandelion growing through a crack in the desert bed. He must think that’s the most asinine thing that’s ever come across his desk. There it is – the last nail in the coffin. “Well,” Kyle stammered, “um, I thought it was a little strange to see a dandelion just there all by itself out there in the desert, and I only had one frame left, and I didn’t want to turn in an unfinished roll of film, so I just snapped the picture.”
Kyle’s editor looked at him, then at the photo, then back to Kyle and said, “Just like that, huh?”
Kyle gulped slightly and replied, “Yeah, just like that.”
The editor looked at the dandelion picture on more time for a moment, the looked back at Kyle and said, “Good shot. Nice job. We’ll run with it.”
Kyle’s eyes went wide with surprise as he said, “Come again?”
Kyle’s editor looked puzzled for a second before he said, “That’s right – you’re not from the desert are you?”
“No, sir,” Kyle replied, his thoughts still a mix of questioning and relief.
“You’re probably used to seeing dandelions all the time where you’re from, right?” the editor asked.
“They are a pretty common sight, yes,” Kyle admitted.
Kyle’s editor leaned back and asked, “Do you know how dandelions spread and grow?”
Kyle’s brow furrowed as he replied, “Yeah. The wind blows the seeds from the seed head and they end up landing in whatever ground they land in, where they grow from there.”
“Exactly,” the editor replied. “What do you think the odds are of something like that landing in a desert bed, first of all? And what do you think the likelihood of something like that growing in an area that’s lucky to get two inches of rain every year?”
Kyle’s brow remained furrowed for a moment as he pondered the questions put before him. He then began to slowly realize what his editor was saying. “Pretty slim, I’d say,” came Kyle’s reply.
His editor simply nodded his head and said, “Pretty unique, I’d say. That’s what this story needs. And, it confirms that you have good instincts.”
“What do you mean?” Kyle inquired.
“Well,” the editor said, “while you definitely have a good eye for taking pictures, this one,” he said as he lightly shook the dandelion photo, “especially given what you told me about how you came to take it, lets me know that you have the ability to recognize a photo moment without trying to look for one, like you did with the rest. Sometimes, those are the best moments to capture – the ones you didn’t set out to find.”
Kyle looked at the dandelion photo again and slowly nodded his head as he began to comprehend what his boss was telling him. His feelings of doubt and dread were suddenly replaced with confidence and elation as he said, “I think I get it.”
“Good,” his editor said with a thin smile. He then took the rest of the photos and placed them in a drawer before he looked at Kyle and said, “Like I said, good job, kid.” He then handed the photo to Kyle and said, “Get this scanned and dropped in the copy inbox. It’ll show in the story for the morning edition.”
Kyle happily took the photo from his boss’ hand and left the office with a renewed pep in his step – knowing that what had been thought a failure was actually success in disguise.