The Mind of Meikle
From: Richard W. Adkins, WRAL-TV, Raleigh, NC
In a not so quiet neighborhood, in a not so ordinary house, not so far from the TV tower farm, Robert Meikle is a not so average guy.
“Welcome to the laboratory!” Meikle jokes, or rather half jokes…
OK, he’s really not joking at all.
“At least I’m not losing my marbles,” says Meikle.
No, he’s not. In fact Meikle knows where all of his hundreds of marbles are. They are caged in a large homemade marble game that Meikle made with his two children. “Here it is,” he says with a smirk befitting a mad scientist. His wife Betty stands near and simply says, “You never know what he’ll come up with.”
Four feet tall, five feet long, and three feet wide, “Marblopolis” is an unorthodox mix of foam board, hot glue, gravity and imagination… mostly imagination. Pour the marbles on the top and gravity takes over. Colors swirl as the glass orbs roll down ramps, bounce off bumpers, and drop through drains. Along the way are surprising turns, interesting twists and unexpected pauses. When the marbles finally reach the end, you want to grab them up and start the trip all over again.
“The first one of these I made was much smaller,” Meikle explains. “Now it’s too big to fit through the door, it’s stuck here.”
Robert Meikle is more than just a marble maniac. He is the award winning television news photographer for WRAL-TV’s consumer unit. And to understand Marblopolis is to understand Meikle’s photography… if understanding is even possible.
Meikle’s TV stories are a lot like his marble game- unorthodox, yet thrilling. He takes the viewer on a long exciting path, moving in unexpected directions, and in the end, leaving them awaiting an encore. His style is distinctive; his most recent accolade is a regional Murrow award. His mind is constantly churning with ideas. “Sometimes I have ideas I can never use,” he says.
To create this unique style of storytelling, Meikle often forsakes his $100,000 worth of company-issued gear. Instead he opts for a trunk full of other peoples trash that he calls treasure. He is the McGuiver of TV storytelling. “Check this out…” he brags as he demonstrates a miniature camera dolly made from skateboard wheels and an old tripod. He has a wide-angle lens removed from an old photo-copier, a kitchen cabinet light modified for use as a back-light and set of old tripod wheels with enough mileage to make any used car salesman proud.
And his ingenuity doesn’t end with finding new uses for old equipment.
He is also a one-man special effects department, creating in his camera what software developers toil for years to fake. Meikle has found ways to incorporate the clouds created as milk was dropped in water, 8mm film projection, and miniature cameras streaked across circuit boards in his recent stories.
“(My ideas) don’t always work,” Meikle says, “but for every one that fails, I get another idea. Something will come out of it.” His greatest treasure is the handwritten notebook where he keeps all of his ideas, both the successes and the failures. “I go through it before a tough shoot. If I know I’m in trouble, I read through that and get ideas.”
More often than not Meikle’s stories are illustrative presentations of consumer issues. It’s his job to make overcharged phone bills and mechanically deficient used cars into interesting TV stories. “It’s mental,” says Meikle. “This is photography you have to think about.”
When his brain is tired, Meikle likes to take a break, occasionally shooting a feature that’s just pure photography. “This is the stuff you don’t have to think about,” Meikle says of his third place win in the 2000 2nd quarter Region 6 NPPA competition for In-depth Photography. But in true Meikle style he couldn’t do it the easy way. He took a two-day llama trek through the Great Smokey Mountains, lugging his gear, and bringing back spectacular video. “Shooting the beautiful pictures should be just like breathing… you shouldn’t have to think about it.”
Meikle grew up in the Raleigh area; Cary, North Carolina to be exact. He started shooting in Asheville, then moved to Florida. He returned to Raleigh six years ago to be Chief Photographer at WRAL, a stint that lasted about two years once he realized he would much rather shoot than manage. “I like the photography part of it,” he says. “To be a good chief you have to be able to teach. I have a hard enough time trying to describe what I do, and I can’t explain it to others.”
Even at home, Meikle is more or less still engaged in his work. He attends film festivals, tinkers with old film and video cameras, and of course, builds his marble game. He even combined the three by making a short film titled Marblopolis… a Meikle’s-eye-view of a Meikle world. “That was just fun to shoot and fun to edit. It was a natural sequence. It was the perfect sequence.” The closing credits of the film list four Meikles – his wife and two children are major components of his work.
Many great artists are a little off, Robert Meikle is definitely skewed. His coworkers view his work with both admiration and amazement. He considers what he does as art, and maybe someday we will see his art in a not so average gallery show… “That may be my second career.” He says. After all, Robert Meikle is a not so average guy.