SWAT: Special Weapons And Tactics / by Brenda Hartshorn

I've worked as a photographer for many different industries.  All of them have had their pros and cons, but if I picked the most enjoyable, I would have to say that the time I took photos of the San Joaquin County SWAT team for an editorial article.  Lifestyles/Fashion shoots for MensHats.com comes in a close second.

For about 2 years I was the sole photographer for San Joaquin Magazine.  They sent me on assignment for things ranging from restaurant features, covering events, editorial portraits, ads, home architecture, seasonal decor styling, and more.  I think my strangest Hodge-podge of shoots to book in a day consisted of taking photos of cheese, a cabinet maker, and a high class gala event. FACT: I've photographed a butcher, a baker, and a candlestick maker.  My life is complete.

Training Day

I joined them to observe one of their drills.  It was like watching them raid a castle, well it was a rundown apartment complex in downtown Stockton.. So it was like watching them raid a sketchy wooden castle?  Anyway, they broke out all the equipment to bust through and get the job done as quickly as possible.  They used a battering ram on the door, took formation to securely clear the rooms, and forced the targets into submission.  In addition to watching the drill at full speed, they allowed me to "hit pause" and direct the photos to better capture close ups to tell their story.  For this kind of high risk and high stress job, I expected to be photographing a bunch of young, buff, adrenaline junkies- but they were more Average Joes that knew it was just a job that needed to get done.  The age range seemed wide from straight out of college to people in their late 40's to early 50's, but perhaps the job aged them a bit- I could be wrong.  All I know is that they seemed to be a very respectful group of gentlemen.

Their equipment was also pretty cool.  They had an armored car, gas masks, battering rams, giant crowbars, sight mirrors, and serious guts to be working in Stockton.  In addition to their armored car, they also had an old Wonder Bread truck that was repainted to carrying various gear.  I don't know why, but this makes me smile.

Why this shoot?

I would have to say it is part subject matter and part meeting the people who made up the team.  I have an appreciation for the tactics that they used for breaking and entering.. wait- that makes me sound like a criminal.  Kicking down the door?  (Very obscure, Much Munchkin reference, Such face palm.)  Maybe I should elaborate.  In college, I was into scenario paintball.  My friends and I would go to a place in Corona that had fields that were based on war zones.  They had helicopters, cars, and old buses for Iraq, tall bamboo and huts for Vietnam, and trenches for Germany just to name a few.  Most of the rounds were team elimination but there was also capture the flag.  Being able to take a part in a Real Life RTS was epic (nerd is me.)  Capture the flag was often coordinated by split up the team into a group those that would stay and defend, a group to rush the opponent, and a small group that would sneak around to flank the other team.  Being able to see the SWAT team’s rush tactics in action were quite impressive.

Another thing.  These aren't trained models that pose for photos all day. Although I do love my models, editorial photography focus on the forgotten people in our community that make a difference.  We have ideas of what those people might be like, but it is nice to help break down those walls (bad pun, deal with it) and show that these people are just like us.  Being able to share that realism and meet people who serve our community is something that goes beyond just taking pretty pictures.  I am able to really appreciate the individual and their story.  In those moments, it makes me feel like my photos/work has a purpose.  I think being able to feel connected through your work to the rest of the world is key for any profession.  If you’re not connected, it might be fun for a while- but the question ultimately arise, "what is your purpose is in this world?"  For those of us who do the 40-hour grind, work makes up a large part of our lives.  I spend more time with my coworkers than I do with my friends and family (the ones who are suppose to be most important to me in my life.)  It’s kind of a strange concept to think about, but it’s very true and I’m sure it’s not that uncommon.  Because of this realization early in my career, I’ve been able to throw out my ego and have a strong bond with my teams to drive successful projects.  If you live those 40-hours with meaning, you will accomplish a lot.  We can’t all go to Africa to help the poor, sick, and hungry.  As Mother Teresa said, “Not all of us can do great things.  But we can do small things with great love.”