Through the Lens: The Gifts of Being an Initiated Man 

By Peter Hymans, Western Region, Legacy Discovery Shaman

As an man “initiated” by a transformative weekend experience, with years on various men’s teams and events, I’ve often heard men talking about “the warrior” and “battling,” and I have given a lot of thought to the subject. Even in the midst of daunting odds, “I channel my activities through a context where I give my vigorous best-efforts to cause successful outcomes without having to incorporate concepts of “opponent” or “crisis.”

I have achieved a level of competence in photography, which earns me a spot as sports photographer at various events. This work gives me a rare opportunity to witness hundreds of people interacting under challenging circumstances and to observe different levels of masculine relationship and leadership in action.

The boss of the photo company for which I work is a man who has not accepted numerous invitations from numerous people to attend an initiation event. Without an agreement to have straightforward man-talk, the work challenges me in having to couch my words and follow instructions, when things could be far easier and productive if we had that familiar bond. As a professional, I discipline myself to follow the leader and to deliver a top quality product every time I can, despite the obstacles. 

In this scenario, rather than bathe in a context of adversity where I may feel oppressed, I adopt the context of being a hunter who is bringing home the life-giving food to my family. Every second is an opportunity to succeed or to fail. I choose success. 

Most of what I do is to photographically document the action and atmosphere for the participants, spectators and production teams at “powerlifting” events. Powerlifting is a type of weight lifting, which most often consists of bench pressing, deadlifting and sometimes Squats, depending on the organization putting on the event.

The workdays are long and hard. For a Las Vegas event, typically we roll out of Sacramento at 6:30 a.m., hauling adequate gear and supplies for the mission. With the exception of a brief meal stop and a couple gas fill-ups, we keep going until we arrive at the site at about 7 p.m.

Immediately on arrival we offload multiple trunks, cartons and backpacks. Then I am preoccupied with gaffer’s tape to secure the wiring for the umbrella strobe flashes and remote shutter cords, so people won’t trip and bring equipment crashing to the floor. By 11:30 p.m. all the tripods, C-stands and video wiring is in place … and I retire for the night, anticipating the beginning of the “hunt.” The hunt, not the battle.

At powerlifting events in three states, I’ve manned an outpost, armed with an array of gear, including two still cameras and two video cameras. My mission: “to catch the moments” and return image-laden “compact flash” cards to home-base, where the boss and my daughter-in-law convert camera data into pictures on multiple computer screens, so photos can be selected, bought and taken home as evidence and priceless memories of a successful “hunt.”

As the sole source of non-candid photos for the event, I must start the video camera just before each lift begins. I then grab the two remote shutter buttons, used to fire the two Canon still cameras. I also manage the small back-up video camera, so that, in case something happens to the DVD recorder, we have a second set of video data.

My day normally starts at 5:30 a.m. for showering, dressing and getting to the venue. I then take the cameras from their storage boxes and position them on the various tripods. I also format 40 compact flash cards, set the shutter speed, exposure and focus of the cameras and format the DVD for the main video camera. Most of what I do is not extremely difficult, if broken into individual tasks. The tough part is to maintain discipline and routine for long hours so that every “key moment” is captured in the cameras.

The lessons of “man in action” are not limited to my own performance by any means. Powerlifters come from all walks of life. Ages range from 13 to over 90 years. It takes a strong ego and sense of purpose to powerlift. Surprisingly, one almost never sees people strutting their “looking good stuff.” The value of all the “look at me” posturing and fancy clothing and jewelry quickly disappear when the lifter must face iron plates and the steel bar. At that point, all the lifter has are muscles, determination and courage to beat the force of gravity and prove his worth. Results reveal the man, so competitors all get along remarkably well. They will jump in an instant to help out another lifter as he prepares for his next lift.

The event manager is a hero for organizing the very complicated event and for maintaining order and flow. He has a dozen or so helpers who man the computer to schedule the lifters and then to keep track of their successful lifts and the number of kilos they lift. Some prepare awards for the winners of each category. Three judges score lifts, based on rules that measure timing and several technical details, which determine a good or a bad lift. Each judge scores a pass or no-pass for by switching on a white or red lamp on the scoreboard. Two or three whites, and a lifter is successful.

Each group of lifters is called a “flight.” Most events will have between eight and 15 flights in a day. The average flight has 10 to 20 competitors with three attempts per lifter. So on a 20-man flight there are 60 lifts, with the option for successful lifters to make a 4th lift if they wish to go after a WABDL world record. 

Catching “dollar-moments” is tough. The difference between a salable photograph and “junk” is a few hundredths of a second. Critical too is timing the video camera so that only enough is filmed to capture the event, leaving out the preliminary wiggling around and getting the hands set on the bar.

I’ve worked days when the lifting started at 8 a.m. and did not stop until 10:30 p.m. with no long breaks in between. Short intervals between flights usually leave enough time to run to the stage, climb a l2-foot ladder and switch-out the camera memory card. Then I have to run back to my station and swap-out the card in the front camera. Then, on rare occasions, I have just enough time to literally run the cards 100 or so feet, back to “base-camp” for processing. If the event manager rolls straight into the next flight, I’ll ask a spectator to ferry the cards back. When base-camp is not flooded with buyers, sometimes a team member fetches the cards and might bring a beverage or give me a restroom break. Lunchtime is rare; sometimes it happens. 

Every lift requires at least two shots; from the bar-grab to when the attempt is properly and completely executed. I take three to six snaps in the two to five seconds it takes for a lift. That records the real action, between the bottom and the top of the lift, where the real exertion happens. Then, after each lift, I need to be keenly alert to see if the contestant will jump off the floor, shoot his fist in the air or do some other celebration of a successful lift. Those exuberant human moments are pure gold!

In an average 10-hour day, I might take as many as 2200 photographs, including the awards and candid shots between flights – of couples, cute children or teams.

After the events and awards are concluded, there is an hour or two of work at base-camp processing pictures for the lifters and their families and about 30 percent teardown of the equipment, to protect the $50,000 investment in equipment from “damage” or “loss” overnight.

We often finish up too late to go see the town or even get to a good restaurant for dinner. So we grab some fast food or make something from an ice chest we often bring, just so we get some semblance of nutrition.

The events are absolutely not all about men and boys. There are women and girls who compete with equal enthusiasm and commitment. One of the greatest rewards is watching fathers as they help prepare their daughters to lift and the coaching and affection they give to their girls. Having no daughters, I have a bit of envy when I see father-daughter teamwork at play – heartwarming stuff. I wish all dads could see this as an example of character-building that dads can give to their daughters just as well as they can to sons.

Humans of all sizes, shapes and colors, from many different nations populate events. We see teams from Brazil, Afghanistan, Finland, Hawaii, India, England, France and more. It’s a fun challenge: speaking broken English and getting them photos they will take home and treasure.

The truth is I am a hunter, who uses endurance, a keen eye and a sense of timing to line up and “shoot” targets quickly and successfully. The good news is that I ply my hunting skills –not to kill – but to bring joy and amazement to lifters and their families. Color, focus, timing and human interaction are the real rewards of this demanding and precise work. 

The money is okay. The main compensation comes in the form of the satisfaction of doing a job well, under pressure. It is also a great joy to meet the lifters and their families and feel as though I am contributing something to them by giving my best and using my skills and talents in ways that serve.

The gifts of being an initiated man who stays in active relationship with others are many. I am grateful to have learned skills, which help me, many times a day, to be of service to others and to be successful in so many areas of my life.

For more information on powerlifting, you may visit World Association of Benchers and Deadlifters (WABDL): http://wabdl.org/.  The Amateur Athletic Union (A.A.U.) web site is: http://www.aaupowerlifting.org)

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