"The taste of fresh mud, gritty with sand and sharp with the fetid funk of Mother Earth's own musk, lingers in my mind like a Proust macaroon. No sooner does a damp morning, a humid afternoon or the ground after an evening rain reach my nostrils than the memory of earth, warm upon my face and lips swell within me."
"Shoot! Shoot-shoot-shoot-shoot!" he screamed.
My hand is cramping and the base of my thumb is screaming with pain. My t-shirt is soaked and my wet jeans cling to my legs. I dig in with my toes, put my weight upon my left arm, bent and numb with the weight of my camera. My thumb won't work anymore and I am advancing the film lever with the outside of my right palm, squeezing the shutter button while spitting mud out of my mouth. A coach, eyes intent on the football field, doesn't see me on the ground and trips over me, cursing as he rises. And still Harry is screaming. Assured that Harry can scream louder and longer at me than he can, the coach moves on down the field - a dark, wet brown stain marring the left hip of his kahkai pants. I watch him run down the sideline, one hand holding a clipboard over his head, the fingers of the hand closest to the field pointing at something or someone on that vast expanse of earth that stretches in front of us.
I have stopped watching the game. I have stopped breathing. I have stopped loving photography and photography class. I spit mud out of my mouth, still feeling the sand of it sliding along my teeth. The ground in front of me smells like piss and sweat and earth and dead leaves and rotting grass clippings. The band behind me is thumping and clanging, horns blaring some fight song that is only drowned out by Harry's "Shoot! Shoot! Shoot!!" each time a player gets the ball.
With each play the earth is churned up as cleated players move up and down the sidelines, kicking mud in my face, swearing at the action they want to be in. All I see are calves, muscular under their red and white stockinged uniforms. Legs and cleats and shoes. I crawl towards the bench and look under it - through it to the field. Someone is down, hurt. The boys on the bench clear it and move towards the left. From where I am, on the ground, I am level with the injured player. I raise the camera, focus the telephoto, and look through it at him as he turns his head to the side and stares at me on the sideline. His eyes are filled with pain and the grimace, mud and agony are evident since someone has removed his helmet.
He focuses on me and I on him. I cannot hear the crowd. I cannot taste the mud. I cannot feel the cold wet earth, or smell the smell of popcorn drifting from the concession stand. Life slows, motion stops. I hear only the blood pounding in my ears as my thumb suddenly relaxes and I crank the film advance lever. I could almost count each rachet of the advancing film as I do. I frame his body and shoot. And I shoot again and again as my hand finds a strength and motion of its own. I am floating above the field now, looking down on myself - prostrate in a shallow puddle. The player is on a stretcher and as I look down on us an air horn goes off in the crowd - a long, harsh noise signaling the end of the quarter and of play.
The sound slams me back into my body and I cover my camera lens and duck my head as coaches, players and the rescue squad rush by me in a clump of legs, churning the mud, showering me with fine clumps of earth as the player they're carrying is hustled into an ambulance waiting on the track behind me.
Harry is silent.
"Did you get it?"
The next class period my print of the injured player is posted on the board for critique. No one says anything. There is nothing to say. The photo speaks for itself. I have cropped it tightly - just enough so the viewer feels like they too are lying in the mud, writhing along side him.
"Change the angle. Lie down on the ground. Climb up into a tree. Kneel. No one ever sees a great photo, or tells a great story, or sees a great truth from the place everyone else is looking from," Harry says.
"Get down in the mud. Shoot, shoot, shoot and shoot again until it becomes second nature." He stopped in front of the photo and looked at it for one long moment, one arm crossed over his chest, his hand stroking his chin slowly as he stared into the player's eyes.
"Great shot," he said, turning to look at me. "Great shot."
I nod. It was the best thing I ever found that semester and later - that life changes when you see it all from a different angle.