New experiences exhilirating, even if scary

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 17, 2006

Say the word, &8220;snake,&8221; in public and you automatically will receive a squeamish reaction from those around you.

Just the thought of those slithery reptiles can cause bodies to shriek back in horror.

So when I was first approached to photograph a live snake by hovering only a few inches above it, I have to confess I could already feel the adrenaline running through my system.

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When it comes to photographing, I am game for pretty much anything.

Flying through hurricanes, climbing tall towers, documenting hostage situations and even dealing with unruly children, I have been through them all.

But when local author Greg Iles bumped into me in the coffee shop and said that he might need me to photograph a water moccasin for the cover of his new book, I must confess there were a few hesitant moments of silence before I could respond.

And the response? Well, it was a tentative, yes.

But when he said he didn&8217;t know where he could find a poisonous snake and didn&8217;t really have a place in which to photograph it, I reasoned in my head that the odds were not great that Greg could actually pull it off.

So I shrugged it off and went on with my business without a thought.

Then there was the phone call.

&8220;We have the snake,&8221; Greg said over the phone.

OK. Anyone who knows Greg knows that you should never bet against him, no matter the odds.

And anyone who knows Greg also knows that this would not be just any photograph of a snake.

No way.

This snake had to be slithering its way between two bed pillows across the white sheets of a bed.

Oh yes, and this would be a close up shot.

Hmmm. Did I say yes?

Two days later, I was walking into Greg&8217;s office with camera in hand, ready for another first in my career &8212; photographing a real live poisonous snake.

After an hour of setting up lights and making sure the props were ready, then came the snake.

With a flip of the lid, the snake handler lifted the five-foot long, writhing black form from the white bucket and set in on the bed.

Everyone gasped in unison. Half of the crew helping with the shoot, stepped back. One person left the room. And for all practical purposes, it was just me, the snake handler and the snake. Thank goodness there was a snake handler.

After the immediate shock, the rush of excitement took over and the photographing began.

It was a truly a hypnotizing thing to photograph over the course of a couple of hours. I almost felt myself being lulled into a false sense of security with another person to my side who&8217;s sole responsibility was keeping the snake away from me.

Tackling something new is always exhilarating. Going into a situation not knowing what will happen next is the most exciting part.

But with snakes, especially poisonous ones, reducing the number of unknowns can be the difference between taking a good shot and going to the hospital.

Many precautions were taken to better predict what would otherwise be an unpredictable situation.

And here may be the difference between photographing for a book cover and photographing for the newspaper.

One relies on control and the other relies on faith. And in the six years of photographing for The Natchez Democrat, I have learned to rely on the unknown and all the possibilities it presents.

There is no greater rush than taking my camera and capturing the great unknown called the Miss-Lou.

Don&8217;t get me wrong, photographing the snake was exciting. It&8217;s something I am glad I did &8212; once.

Ben Hillyer is the visual editor for The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at