Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Memorial Day Redux

So, I spent Monday following the honor guard from the American Legion post in Girard around to various cemeteries for their annual Memorial Day observances.

It was kind of a cruddy, rainy day Monday as thunderstorms blew constantly through the area. On more than one occasion, Mother Nature gave her own counterpoint to the rifle fire, blasting away with lightning and thunder before the echoes of the honor guard's weapons had even died away.

It's pretty standard stuff, something I've been involved in since I was a bugler for the local Veteran's of Foreign Wars post in my home town while I was in high school. Once I moved in to newspaper work, I hung up my trumpet and picked up the camera to document the ceremonies I'd participated in so many times before.

This is Bert Kelley, one of the color guard members, playing "Taps" on an electronic bugle at the cemetery north of Hepler, Kansas, later in the morning. The electronic bugle is actually a normal instrument with a small audio player stuffed down inside the bell. Mr. Kelley isn't actually "playing" the music. He's just holding the horn while the music is played.

I hope I'm not giving away any trade secrets here. The electronic recording being played didn't have the same richness or tonality of a real trumpet or bugle, so I don't think anyone is really going to go, "Dang! You mean he wasn't playing it? Well, you could have fooled me."

I can't say I really like the electronic "Taps." Something is just missing. But, hey, it makes it easier. So who am I to complain.

Here's another photo from that day:

This image is from the Farlington Cemetery, just outside the tiny town of Farlington, north of Girard. I hate to admit it, but the honor guard set up in a bad spot photographically and I knew I wasn't going to make any different (read better) images than I'd already made. I spent my time instead watching the crowd.

This man happened to arrive just before the ceremony was scheduled to start. He and a couple other folks came to put some flowers on a grave and hung around until after the ceremony was over.

After they placed their flowers, the other two walked off, and he stood there for a moment. I can't begin to guess what he was thinking, but the composition of the setting really grabbed me and a made a few images.

I'm really pretty happy with both of these photos. Have I made better photos of Memorial Day observance? Sure I have. Heck, I made better images — from a purely journalistic standpoint — that day. But there's just something about these two that made we want to share them.

The image of Mr. Kelley is pleasing to me in its simplicity. It's something I've personally seen countless times before. But there's just something about him, against the dark backdrop of the trees behind him, that speaks to the simplicity of the moment. It also brings to mine, for me at least, the solitary nature of the men and women being honored on Memorial Day.

The second image, again, is a fairly simple composition. But it works, I think. The lone flag in the foreground, the vibrant color of the various decorations on the graves and the single mourner, standing alone and anonymous in the background, brings the whole idea of Memorial Day together.

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