Monday, April 14, 2014

BU Remembers

(sorry, this baby's wordy)

view it here

Less than a month ago I decided to do a marathon bombing anniversary photo essay. Portraits of members of the BU community along with hand-written notes from them, sharing what they experienced. The initial plan was to give each participant a sheet of paper (carefully measured to work with layout) with "I am" and "My most vivid memory".

I never loved the "most vivid memory" part, but since I didn't have anything better to offer up, I kept quiet. Until one morning when I was laying in bed, stressed about the project and making it just right, when it came to me; the subjects should complete the phrase "I will never forget".

I quickly shot an email off to the editors who all agreed that it was a stronger option, and the control freak in me revelled in knowing that the phrasing would be mine.

The idea of pairing the portraits with hand-writing is not new. Yoon Byun, a shooter for the Boston Globe had a column years ago that did this. When I was in college my final documentary piece about the culture of adolescent girls including a page I gave each of them to fill in whatever way they wanted.

I've written in journals for most of my life. The Griffin and Sabine books have always been a favorite of mine.  I miss snail mail. I still have love notes from boyfriends. Not emails. Those I've deleted.

Handwriting has always been more tactile, more personal, to me.

Li Jing was the close friend and room mate to Lu Lingzi, who was killed in the bombings. I worried that she would not be interested in participating, but not only was she interested, she was excited and grateful that I was doing it. We emailed back and forth about Lingzi's likes and met at a piano practice room in the CFA, where Lingzi liked to be when she had spare time. I brought along with me an empty pint of Ben and Jerry's, Lingzi's favorite. The concept was born, the shoot went well, and it was really nice to spend some time with Li.

I was surprised when Li thanked me for doing the project after our shoot. I worried that people might take this effort as self-aggrandizing, or even exploitative. It was not my intention, but I can't really put into words what my intentions were. I guess I wanted to tell the story. A year ago when the bombs went off, a week followed and I kicked myself for not better documenting how the event effected the BU community. In not doing my job I did an injustice.

Maybe I was trying to fix that. 

After photographing Li, I needed more subjects, and people were not jumping up and offering to be involved. I worried that the project would be dead in the water.

David, who's Project manager, brain-stormer, talk-me-off-the-cliff-or-at-least-imply-I'm-driving-him-nuts-with-my-neuroses-so-would-I-calm-myself-down-already person, said that one of the "ladies who lunch" in the kitchen on our floor was at the marathon near the finish line. He wasn't sure which woman it was though. I went to talk to Denise about it, because I'd seen her in the kitchen with friends sometimes. Maybe she would know who it was. I started to explain the project and she said "yes, that was me".  Her eyes welled-up as she began to tell her story.

I felt terrible, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to upset you by asking about it".

She said "I think I want to (participate in the project). I think it would be therapeutic for me".

So I photographed Denise with her grandson, now 2 years old, in the same spot they stood that day, just outside Lord and Taylor's on Boylston Street.

There were 11 people total; Ryan, who I photographed on a treadmill with a great deal of effort because the treadmill was surrounded by mirrors, making the light I was using bounce all over.   Jaimee and her sister Katy were my last to photograph. We met by the Pru and they showed me the path they took; I shot them in an alley where they ran to escape the chaos. I photographed a very nice surgeon at BMC. (That took some organizing with his PR rep. "I want to photograph him in an OR")  Thanks to Erik Rojas, a student assistant who made my job easier by standing in for lighting purposes, that shoot went smoothly (he also took the shots of me working).

Shooting the incredible Dr. Jeffrey Kalish at Boston Medical Center

After the surgeon we met with BU Police to photograph the captain in Watertown. The BUPD had been part of the manhunt and so Watertown was a logical location. When I showed to the police station, the captain told me that five guys would be coming with us because they were all involved. Officer Abdullah was the one who was closest to the crossfire, he told me, so I had to do some quick-thinking since only one person could write the note.

The guys were great to work with. We wandered the neighborhood and they shared the story of the chaos from that night, amazing in the fact that no one was injured from friendly fire. They pointed out bullet holes which remained in the sides of one of the houses. When we returned to the station, I had Officer Abdullah, who was the focus of the portrait, write the statement. He thought for a while and said to me, nervously, "I'm sorry, I've just never done anything like this before".

When he was done, his statement was one of the most moving.

A day later I saw three of them in the local coffee shop. The recognized me and I gave them a friendly  "Hey guys!" realizing afterwards that I should really work on my Familiartosis (my tendency to be too familiar with people I should be more formal with).

In Watertown with BUPD

From a shooting standpoint it was really interesting and challenging. When I came up with this project idea and pitched it, the editors said "go for it!" and I was left thinking, shit, now I have to pull it off.We haven't had any photo essays since I've started here. We shoot images to support stories, slideshows for move-in and commencement, but beyond that, there are no photo-driven pieces. And there should be.

So obviously, this one needed to be good because I didn't want to blow it.

How would I find the subjects? How would I narrow down who should be in the final project? How should I shoot each subject so there's consistency across the board with the images?

The consistency was one of my major concerns. I wanted all the subjects looking straight at me, at eye level. I wanted them all in similar lighting. That quickly became impossible because some of the subjects needed to be inside. How were they going to work together. Then I realized that if I simply shoot the way I shoot, they will work together. Period.

I loved working with the subjects too. As a photographer you often know when something just clicks. It's even cooler when the light goes on for the subject too. When I photographed Billie Weiss, Red Sox Photographer and BU alum, he was a perfect example. We wandered the space finding the right light and I told him what I was looking for in his pose. We tried a few different things, I would tell him to readjust the cameras in his hands until it felt right and then we both saw it at the same time, almost say "There!" when we spotted it; the way a photographer holds their gear and it feels like an extension of themselves. "It just clicked suddenly" Billie said. And that was the shot.

With Li, we shot for a long time before I got the one which I knew I would like best. I got it by asking her to stand at the wall and just relax for a bit, "I just have to check something" I told her. And that's when she stopped posing and stood there sort of fidgeting with her fingers.

Dr. Kalish had a similar thing. You have them move around and move around. Hold this. Nope. OK, try holding that like this. Nope. Do you ever put your hands on your hips? Yes, like that. OK. Now hold the mask in one hand.

"Well, usually it's only just one hand (on my hip)" he said, bringing the other down. And suddenly it's there, a natural body language for that person. 

I breathed a sigh of relief when today came. The project was going to run! I was curious to see how it was received. This morning was an editorial meeting at 11 and I was grateful that an assignment came up which got me out of attending. I'm proud of the project and I didn't want to beam like a dork when it was mentioned (and I knew it would because that's what happens in editorial meeting - we talk about working being done and work that's been done).

Something I didn't expect from doing this project was the response I got from the participants. The subjects. More often than not, when the shoot was done and I thanked them for their time and for being part of it, they then thanked me for doing it.

The project was promoted on BU Today's homepage but also on the homepage for the university. I loved the way it was designed so below are some screen shots. The images rotated. Really well done.

I got some nice feedback from some of the subjects when I emailed them the link and a thank you...

Actually, Thank You Cydney. Thank you for getting our stories out there; and, for me, thank you for helping me in getting through this 1st anniversary. The photo shoot and essay has been a step in healing for myself and I thank you for including us as BU remembers the events of last year.
- Denise (and Dan)

Just wanted to say you did a beautiful job with the photos and it was really nice to meet you. Art helps heal and your photos touched the spectrum of people affected, so thanks for helping us and the community remember and move forward!
Enjoy the weather, and watch the road rage ;) (just kidding)
 - Jaimee 

And readers too...

I’m only at Denise and I think I need to stop for fear I’ll be crying at work…
- Trish

This is amazing! All of these photos are phenomenal and the essay is really powerful as a whole! Thanks so much for having me assist, it was a real pleasure. I will be sharing this quite a bit! Let me know if you ever need any more assisting :D.


Hi Cydney-
Just had to stop and let you know – the photos in today’s BU Remembers of folks talking about their memories of the marathon – amazing.

Don’t know if its the subject matter, people’s emotions on their sleeves and/or your incredible talent – but these photographs are amazing. Some of the best work I’ve seen in my 10 years at BU.

I know many of these folks and the images capture their essence so beautifully – Jenn Battaligno – Denise Doherty – the images are so “them.”

Thank you –

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Muddy and happy!

At one point there was actually mud in her tongue!
On her tongue!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone