I appreciate that I have editors that feel that I’m a sensitive guy and will assign me to photograph people in emotionally difficult/delicate situations. I’ve been shipped to Kansas City to photograph a woman who lost her 16 year old daughter in a plane crash a little over a year ago. Joan Winters with her daughter Paige and their riding coach went to look at buying Paige a new horse in Kentucky. But on the return flight there weren’t enough seats for all three so Paige and the coach went and Joan was to take the next flight. Shortly after takeoff the plane crashed killing all on board except the co-pilot.
Now I don’t care how "together" you are, that kind of tragedy leaves a deep and lasting mark on you. I’ve done enough of these stories to know how to handle myself and be ready for the odd word or memory that gets dredged up that brings the seemingly strong person to tears. Personally I don’t want these people to be in pain and I know that my presence only in some way momentarily amplifies the subjects recollections of their trauma.
Frankly I don’t want to show their pain, rather I want to show their strength in the ongoing adversity that the tragic even has put them into. If they have an overwhelming moment I try not to photograph it unless I can show it in a dignifying manner. I do not in any way want to a "grief leach". That’s not my purpose or style. It does often work out in these photo sessions that the people will be eloquent, funny or in other ways very positive in their outlook and demeanor. Showing the inner quiet calm is the goal but if they "break out of character" I do shoot it. How could I not?
I decided to photograph Joan with her horse Johnnie for the story because despite horses being a big togetherness thing for Joan and Paige she still rides. Well shortly into the shoot Johnnie got silly I got the shot.
There is no quiet dignity here. Though this moment has nothing at all to do with the story it says a lot about Joan. She’s a great, strong, positive loving and accepting woman. In short she’s a terrific model of what a mother should be. Oh and Johnnie is a fine looking fellow too. (Cheeky bugger!)
Technicals: Nikon D200, ISO 100, daylight white balance. Nikon AF-D 50mm f/1.4 @ f/8 1/125th sec. Alien Bee AB800 strobe into a Chimera Medium Pro softbox at camera left and an AlienBee AB800 with 20degree spot grid at camera right. Both powered by a Innovatronix Explorer 1200 battery pack.