Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Not Shot: Photographs. Director's Advice for Good Shoots.

Chuparosa Foto Gallery
Michael Sedano

Colibrí, picaflor, chupaflor, chuparosa, huitzitzilin, what's in a name? I call my photographic work by a variety of names reflecting their nature as files, or frames, images, or portraits, vistas, or perspectives. They are not shots, not in my vocabulary.

As a kid, I was fond of shooting a .22 caliber rifle plinking cans. I killed the occasional jackrabbit. Each kill, I got heartsick staring at the dead eyes and limp body. I preferred not to kill. You kill when you shoot. Gives "shoot" a bad name, sabes?

My aversion to killing accompanied me to Basic Combat Training at Ft. Ord, which I started on January 15, 1969. The first day of physical training, I carried a soldier on my back and, running as fast as possible piggy-backing 150 pounds of ride'em cowboy man, a knee gave out and we tumbled to earth. I crawled away with a hairline fracture.

It was never a coincidence my damaged knee sent me to the hospital on days my platoon ran to the rifle range. And ran back. A long run.

If I couldn't manage an extended orthopedic stay and skip training altogether, the hospital cured me and sent me back to the firing range with a "profile," a magical exemption from running to the range. 

I wasn't exempt from shooting my M-14. Confident in my sharpshooting from years of plinking cans with a .22, I approached the M-14 like a fool. Instead of lovingly cleaning my rifle in the evening, I took ol' Betsy into the shower with me and gave her a bath.

Down time in the Basic Training troop bay saw us putting a spit shine on combat boots (whose gloss would be sanded off in the morning's double time to P.T.) and cleaning our M-14. 

There's a scene in most Army movies where a guy disassembles and assembles a weapon blindfolded. We did that with our eyes closed. The U.S. rifle 7.62mm M-14 is a gas-operated shoulder fired semi- or fully-automatic individual weapon. The soldier quickly breaks down the weapon into major assemblies like barrel, receiver, stock, gas cylinder, a spring and some parts.

Gunoil leaves a smell you'll never forget. The soldier's rifle cleaning kit contains a rod and brush, absorbent cloth patches, and gun oil. The rod, brush, and rags, scrape flecks of gunpowder from muzzle to firing chamber. The interior of the barrel reflects itself along the mirrored tube of steel, rifling grooves glisten under a sheen of oil, there's light at the end of the tunnel. 

More oil on the receiver, the springs. Immediate action, click. Immediate action (pull back the receiver), dry fire the empty chamber. Oil the channel. Push the oil nozzle against the holes and cracks and seams and all the parts that go boom! Rub off all the excess oil and leave the M-14 clean and ready for tomorrow's inspection.


We shoot for record at a special qualifying range we've never seen, one we march to, no sick lame and lazy truck for me and my aching knee. As usual, it rains like the wettest Winter on record.

The Army's cleared a scar from the surrounding manzanita and scrub pines, leaving a wide naked slope where targets will pop up. At the base of the slope, ten pits lined with sandbags slowly fill with water in the Monterey Bay rain and constant drizzle. We huddle under plastic parkas waiting a turn. I'm in the last group to fire.

My boots stick in well-kneaded mud when I jump into my position. Mud puddles against the sandbag rim of my standup hole. Water and red mud flows between the sandbags where I settle the stock seeking a firm firing base. I have a handkerchief in my sleeve to dry my glasses. I'm wondering if I'll shoot Sharpshooter, or merely Marksman? A voice issues the commands.

"Commence Firing." 

With the last word, up the slope some 10 yards from my muzzle, a target pops up from the red earth. Obscured by rain, my target is distinctly what it is: shoulders, neck, helmeted head of another person. 

Down at the training range, we shoot at concentric circles, plinking paper targets instead of beer cans. This is serious shit. That's a man.  I'm supposed to pull the trigger, put a round in his neck, in his face, in his forehead, in his heart, and win a medal because I killed him with my clean and oiled M-14.

My sights come to rest on the target, I breathe out, hold it, squeeze the trigger. Boom!

The familiar recoil pounds into the shoulder muscles. A 7.62mm round speeds away from my firing position and I have no idea where it hits. With the explosion of gunpowder in the chamber, watery oil explodes out of Ol' Betsy splattering across my eyeglasses.

A muddy sleeve conceals a handkerchief to wipe my glasses. The cloth smears oil and mud across the lenses. Now I see a hazy impressionist mass out there where targets are popping up and I'm supposed to be killing them. Boom! Boom! Boom! 

I stop firing. Behind me a Drill Sergeant begins screaming to keep firing why are you not shooting?

"I can't see, Drill Sergeant!" 

When I turn to look up at him I can not see past the mud and oil smearing my lenses, my head wobbles like the blind. Disgustedly, Drill Sergeant tells me to do what I can. I stand in my hole and point the weapon into the rain going "bang bang" in my head. I don't shoot again.

Shooting and I don't mix. That's why, when I go into the garden with a lens, I capture images. Then I get the files into the computer, work those files into some really pleasing frames. Images. Pictures of flowers and hummingbirds.

Photographs are not shots, not my fotos. Fifty-four years ago next week, I entered Basic Training at Ft Ord, and eight weeks later, I proved I can't shoot. 

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