Passing Up the Money Shot…

Years ago, yours truly was assigned by a newspaper to take photos of a purebred cattle breeder. I called and set up an appointment.

“No problem,” the owner said, “I’ll cut some heifers out so they’ll be ready when you arrive.”

He didn’t realize he’d sorted his smartest and most determined cows.

They figured a way to bypass his electrified pen fences, then tiptoe over to a nearby silage pile and help themselves to the soft and moist feed.

Every morning, when the owner threw out their hay, the young cows were delighted to eat. That afternoon, they’d slip out of their pen and serve themselves an extra helping of silage. Come morning, like good cows, they were back in their pen and ready for hay.

“What’ll we be doing?” I asked the owner.

“I’ll run them in the squeeze,” he said, “and we can do some preg-checking.”

Checking for pregnancy in cattle is an exercise in bovine proctology, a hand-palpation of a weeks-old embryo through the wall of the uterus. Being armpit deep inside a cow isn’t for the faint-of-heart. It requires a lubricated, arm length plastic glove and a great deal of pushing and straining to get in that position.

As you might imagine, the cow has her own thoughts on the matter. She strains back against this unwanted attention in an attempt to excrete the offending arm back into the world of light.

All that straining, by man and beast, is a photographic opportunity to capture a moment with interesting facial expressions.

The big day arrived and I took up a station at the head of the squeeze chute, which keeps the cow from wriggling during the procedure. I could see the faces of both participants. As the cattleman finished greasing his long glove, he got down to business.

That was my cue to watch for that special moment when their facial expressions came together for an interesting photo. However, that specialness surprised all of us, cow included, when the owner, fully committed to his armpit, touched her “tickle-zone.”

Semi-digested silage erupted with volcanic force from the cow’s rear.

For the owner, there was nowhere to run or hide. The green, gooshy manure pasted him in the face. The effluent backblast hit with such force and liquidity that, yours truly, was thoroughly splattered at the other end of the cow.

As the remainder of the cow manure tsunami dribbled from the barn ceiling, I still had the camera in position to catch facial expressions. Opening my eyes, I looked through my goopy lens to see the primary blast victim completely coated—glasses, mustache—in a gooey shade of green.

Just then, a secondary wave of runny ooze flowed off the top of his ball cap leaving little manure-cicles hanging on the brim.

In the photojournalism business, that’s referred to as the ‘money-shot’. His expression was a complex mix of disgust and horror that he might be remembered this way forever in the newspaper.

I suppose I could have taken the photo, but didn’t.

I saw no reason to embarrass the hard-working cowman in front of his colleagues. I put the camera down and—when we could both open our mouths without risk of an E. coli infection—asked if the owner was OK.

“I dink doe,” he lisped, nasal passages clogged.

Moving slowly, both of us retreated from our working postures. I was glad the owner had plumbed hot water into his barn.

“You didn’t take that picture, did you?” he asked, mid-cleanup.

I knew he was referring to the moment when he looked like a dribbly, green tar baby through my viewfinder.

“Nope,” I said.

“Thanks, I appreciate that.”

“But I gotta ask you,” I replied, “did you have your mouth open when the bomb went off?”

“Got it closed just in time,” he grinned, scraping out a big goober from the chest pocket of his coveralls.

“Whew,” I said, “me too”

Bing Bingham is a writer, rancher and storyteller. After work, he took a looooong hot shower and drank an ice-cold beer. Check his blog…… for further stories of the rural, American West.

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