What was the first storm you experienced/shot?
The first storm I documented would’ve been Hurricane Andrew, about an hour-and-a-half after it passed through. I was about 14 – my family was driving around and I was documenting the damage from the car. The first storm I actually documented as it was happening was in 1998 – Hurricane Georges, as it hit the Florida Keys. At that point, it was really just a hobby, but over time the stuff I was getting was pretty good. The Weather Channel wound up being interested and it went from there.
Do you use a lot of special camera equipment?
I really do it the old-fashioned way – I don’t even use any underwater housing or casings. I want to get the natural sounds of everything – the wind, the rain. When you put a rain cape on the camera, all you hear is the sound of the rain on the cape. I usually just throw a small towel over the camera. More often than not, I’ll lose a camera every shoot. To me, losing a $3,500 camera will be worth it if the video is that much more real – usually I’ll make it back from video sales anyway. With Katrina, I lost two cameras and all kinds of equipment, but it was worth it – the main thing was I lived through it, and I was able to capture it raw.
You sometimes shoot with The Theiss Device – a camera within a shatter-proof casing designed to withstand the most extreme conditions.
That was originally designed to be used in tornados and not hurricanes. But after Hurricane Charlie, when I got some incredible video of winds that were at about 165mph, I thought, Man, if I could’ve put it right in the path of the wind… When Katrina came along, it was the perfect opportunity to try it, so I deployed it in the lobby of the Holiday Inn that we [he and still photographer Jim Reed] were camping out in. It basically captured the entire lobby being gutted when the storm surge came through the first floor… It floated away with it. It kind of captured the perspective of a drowning person – it was right at the waterline, bumping into furniture floating by.
Have there been times when you were shooting and thought, Uh-oh, this is it?
With Katrina, I was in a relatively safe environment – a solid concrete building – but with Charlie, at the last minute I went to where the best winds were heading in the Charlotte Harbor area. I ended up documenting that entire storm from my car. I used a convenience store at a gas station to block the wind – pulled the car up as close as I could to it and shot out of my window. The car was destroyed. All the windows got busted out and debris was flying everywhere. That was one of the only times that I was concerned doing this.
Any thoughts of someday entering a less dangerous line of filmmaking?
I’d love to.
(A version of this story appeared in ‘boards magazine.)