Shooting Robert King

| April 21, 2012
The perception many of us have about war photographers is that they are fearless, venturesome, sharp and resolute men and women driven by adrenaline and purpose. Shooting Robert King does nothing to promote that perception. Instead, the film strips all valor and idealism from the vocation as seen through the career of photojournalist Robert King. This concentrated survey of King’s career does chronicle the horrors of the wars and conflicts that have plagued the world over the last twenty years,  but more uniquely it tells the honest story of a man whose work, equally dangerous and important, led him out of naivete, through several demons and into his personal contentment.
At age 24 Robert King of Memphis, Tennessee went to Sarajevo to document what was going on in a land worn by ethnic cleansing. Going into it he had one name on his mind, and it wasn’t Milosevic, because he could barely remember the name of the Serbian dictator. It was Pulitzer. But, King soon realized how out of reach that prize really was for someone as ill-equipped– physically, emotionally and intellectually, as him. He was an unripe, frightened young man with fickle ambitions who was doing, saying, even wearing all the wrong things.
Yet, King learned swiftly, and his nerves found stability. While he mastered his craft and his photographs landed on the front pages and covers of important publications, King took to sex and drugs for recreation. Shooting Robert King, takes us to Bosnia, Chechnya and Iraq, but it also takes us to Tennessee– to Memphis, where we meet his music producer father, and to the backwoods, where King spends much of his free time hunting.
Essentially, what is compelling about King’s story is the early part. It is fascinating to watch King, as a young optimistic photographer who is so  uneducated about and shaken by the circumstances in which he voluntarily surrounds himself. Others around him, from colleges to rebel soldiers, question whether he has what it takes, and even laugh at him a little bit. He struggles with his fears, with his photography, with finding consistent sources of food and shelter. (One scene shows him eating bread and butter given to him by kids at an orphanage.)
King’s growth and the progress of his work is truly interesting, and the reminders of war are overwhelmingly painful, but even with all of that there is a Robert King unchanged– the guy who consistently misses his targets while hunting, but has found his way a bit also. Shooting Robert King, directed by Richard Parry, accomplishes the difficult task of being both an accurate look into war and an accurate character study.

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