On Assignment: One year on from tragedy, unexpected results.
At risk of sounding overly sentimental, I wanted to share my thoughts on a story that I did for the Wall Street Journal earlier this year.
I was photographing environmental portraits and human portraits of a town affected by a mass shooting in March 2009. Amongst the people that I was photographing, there was a man who had lost his wife in the murders. His name is Omri and he had lost his wife, Dolores, and grieved deeply for her. Omri is turning his house into a museum of remembrance for his wife and her life and leaving town. As soon as I met him, I knew that we would connect. Softly spoken, firm and extremely direct, Omri communicated in a way that I understood… Direct. He asked me point blank about how I felt about photographing this story, we spoke of journalism, love, loss, mortality, humanity, sensitivity and he graced me with his humor, hospitality and grace. He was moved by the simple fact that I knew how to speak a little Tagalog because his late wife was Filipino and that I was familiar with some basic norms of his adopted faith, Judaism. I had not thought about how much comfort this would bring him. I remember him looking at me so openly and honestly and the unspoken trust that he placed in my hands as I set up my tripod a foot away from his bowed head and made his portrait with my very large and noisy Hasselblad.
So the portraits done, my heart moved at the sadness and abrupt tragedy that so many loved of the deceased are having to endure, I return to New York, file my images and continue with my life. One month later, the article is published and the portrait of Omri runs across five columns. It is big. Confronting. Honest. I am scared about how he is going to feel about it when he sees his sadness in a halftone spread that roughly covers a quarter of the page… I think about writing him an email but never pick up the courage to do so. A couple of days later, I get an email from the reporter who wrote the article telling me that Omri has been in touch with him and would like a copy of the photographs that I took of him and his home and would I please get in touch with him. I immediately write to Omri and we exchange warm words and I am moved and relieved that he saw the images for what I intended… A record.
The interesting consequence to the photographs that I made in Omri’s home is something that I never anticipated, much less hoped for. He will take those photographs when he leaves his house and searches the world for another start. Those photographs will be his physical memory of a point of retrospect, when he had to address the sorrow again, a year on from his loss.. And a record of the home that he shared with Dolores and now leaves to whoever cares to visit and pay their respects to the woman he loved so much. The new significance to those images stay with me and overshadows any other role that they have played so far… And I am humbled at my pride when I saw them in print and thought them at the pinnacle of their importance.