Seeing the Truth with Mark Garfinkel


"How I saw it was the truth," Mark Garfinkel said of a photo he took last year. The photo was Boston Harbor's Graves Island Light Station set amid a red sky and rising sun. Garfinkel has been a long-time photojournalist for the Boston Herald and joined our Digital Journalism class last week to discuss his work. Throughout his career, Garfinkel has photographed breaking events and in-depth stories that tell a story in their own right. Garfinkel showed us photographs he took of Maureen O'Neill's final months of cancer at home in hospice care. He took between 500-800 shots over two and a half months, filtering down the best shots every week.

For breaking events, he monitors police scanners. It was how he was able to photograph a man who jumped from the Tobin Bridge and got caught in the metal netting in an attempt to flee from the police. For an event he can plan for, I asked what he does to prepare. "I would get a coffee and a local paper," Garfinkel responded. Diving into his environment is what Garfinkel prefers to do, but there's more to it. He later described his approach to covering Boston's 9/11 commemoration on its 13th anniversary. He could have gone to cover any event in the city. When he chose to cover Boston's Engine 33 and Ladder 15, it wasn't by chance. In March, this station lost two firefighters to a 9-alarm fire on Beacon Street. He knew that commemorating 9/11 would have a particularly powerful impact at this Boylston Street firehouse.

On his days off from the Boston Herald, he can be found photographing celebrities which he sells to external agencies. In 2009, Garfinkel received a tip one evening to go to the Marshfield, MA airport early the next morning. When he showed up the next morning, he watched fashion icon Gisele Bundchen getting ready for a helicopter lesson as she was 5 months pregnant.

I love good photos. There's something about the composition, the light, and emotion that hit you in an instant of capturing a great moment. It tells a story in the same way I try to tell a story with words. Both of which I have only just begun to imagine as a career. To be able to explore the environment of storytellers is one that solidifies every wild thought I've had that I need to find a way to tell stories like Garfinkel. For him it's photographs and his final advice to our class: "Being there fast is really it." It occurred to me that maybe this is how I should approach writing. By all means, just show up and write fast.

Photo (cc) by Benmil222 and published under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.