My heart sank when I first saw the headline that a photographer had been shot by a police officer because his gear was mistaken for a weapon on a rainy night. I didn't want to open the story because I knew it would instill some more fear in my own work while shooting around law enforcement and other potentially dangerous situations. After finally reading the news story, my curiosity led me straight to Andy Grimm's social media to see who he was. I only had to spend a few seconds on his Facebook page to realize that unlike the tragedy that struck him on the stormy night of September 4, his story was pretty beautiful and inspiring.
Two weeks ago a story of an accidental shooting shocked the photography community, and it has led us to a photographer we may not have seen otherwise. We should all take a piece of inspiration from the way Grimm fills his community with life and love through his photography.
In our fast-paced world of social media, many stories like Grimm's start and end with that shocking event that brings them to our screens in the first place. I knew his story should not end with his shooting when I read his first post to Facebook after the incident: "...Guys, please share some pics from the storm last night. I didn't get any." This was just a day after two excruciating gunshots to his midsection. He was feeling a pain most of us will never know, yet he was thinking about the storm photos he missed. I knew he had to have a special kind of spirit to stay focused on what he loves after being unexpectedly shot doing just that. I followed his posts over the last few weeks, and I was overjoyed to find that his positivity hardly faded.
Grimm is in constant pain and is struggling to complete the simplest of tasks without help, like unplugging his camera battery from the wall. In spite of the excruciating pain, he hasn't stopped taking photos since the accident to aid his mental recovery. He explained that these heartwarming images are from a bit of a different angle as he can't get low to the ground yet. Since the accident, he has been struggling with depression. He has dreams that the officer didn't miss the first shot he took. As Grimm is spending cherished time with his family and community, photographers and journalists from around the world have reached out to him to send regards. I was surprised to learn that he received some hate mail in the mix from people who think his compassion for the officer is a disgrace. Grimm said he does not want to bash the officer publicly because he is going through hell himself.
Grimm had two wedding clients cancel on him due to assumptions that he had to be dangerous for something like this to happen. Canon generously sent him a loaner rig to use for a while, but there is a GoFundMe for Grimm to be able to make up for lost work and purchase new equipment.
Grimm was overwhelmed to learn that he wouldn't be recovering alone, his photographs have touched his community so much that they are doing everything they can to help him heal. The officer who shot him even bought Grimm a new camera body after the incident as an apology. Grimm's gear he carried the night of the shooting will likely be in evidence forever. He is a huge part of his local community, with him and his father covering breaking news like accidents and fires. They have an incredible relationship with Clark County first responders, Grimm says. After the paper uses a few of his images, they distribute the rest to the first responders and their families. The wives and mothers print the photos and scrapbook them to adore for years to come. His relationship with law enforcement and their families is so close that he gets access to things even the TV news crews don't get. "At a fire three days before the shooting, the fire department let me ride up the ladder boom to get aerial pics of the devastation,” said Grimm. “TV news was looking at me like WTF?”
Grimm has only had one other negative incident with law enforcement, when his Jeep died in the sheriff's parking garage. In need of a jump, Grimm ran up to the sargent as he got out of his vehicle. He startled the officer, causing him to go for his pistol. Luckily, he recognized Grimm before any harm was done and they laughed and apologized to each other. The sergeant told Grimm he is cautious after being shot in a parking garage 10 years earlier. Grimm is completely understanding and forgiving of this and the most recent incident. Both times he was in a place he shouldn't have been with no credentials visible, a piece of equipment he will never find himself forgetting again. Just a few weeks after he was shot, against doctors orders, Grimm was back capturing the police hard at work performing a checkpoint.
After hundreds of days around law enforcement and now being shot by one, Grimm knows what to do to stay safe and respectful while in their presence with a camera. To leave no room for misjudgment, these are the three key practices he recommends.
Tips on Staying Safe When Taking Photos Around the Police
Whether it's intentional or not, every photographer will have some sort of interaction with law enforcement. If you're anything like me, you'll freeze up and forget why you even had your camera in your hand. So, knowing what to do to lessen the chance of misconception is important.
- Email the agency, department, or person in charge before showing up to an incident or event.
- Especially at night, make your presence known. For example, flashing your headlights, waving a press pass, or a verbal identification.
- Don't move too quickly or unexpectedly. Never approach an officer from behind.
Grimm was proud that after he was shot, he put down his camera and didn't drop it.
Every community needs a photographer like Grimm who captures the real life in his community in vivid, cinematic ways to show us how beautiful each tiny moment is. He helps us appreciate the men and women doing good in response to the bad, moments that usually remain unseen without a photographer there to document it.
You can view more of Grimm's work on his website.
Photos of Grimm in the hospital by Caleb Perry. All images used with permission.