I know I’m not winning any awards for timeliness here (or perhaps anything else for that matter), but I knew I wanted to revisit these images after a little time had passed. That it has, and just over the past few weeks I’ve finally found the time for another look. This was my project for Eddie Adams Workshop in October 2011. I’m sure I can’t say anything that hundreds of other photographers who’ve passed through the barn doors haven’t said already, but it really was an honor, first just to be chosen, and then to attend and spend four non-stop days with amazing photographers, colleagues, and now friends. There’s still about six weeks left to apply for this year’s Barnstorm, so if you’ve got some great images that you think could get you in, I can’t encourage you enough to apply for the awesomest, longest, and most memorable four days of your life.
My assignment actually encompassed two similar stories that follow. Sullivan ARC, is a non-profit agency that assists citizens of all ages in Sullivan County, NY, to live more independent, fuller lives, even even with whatever disabilities their lives carry. These are two short days in the lives of a handful of those being helped.
Story I: The Front House
This is one of the houses of Sullivan ARC. It is shared by five older women with varying disabilities, who are able to live on their own, but with a little assistance.
I visited over two weekend days, which found most of the residents doing little more than watching tv all day, which of course made my task of telling a story harder, but after spending some time with them, more photographable moments began to present themselves.
These are two of the women who reside here. On the right is Roberta, and if I recall correctly, Dorothy, on the left. Both have called this house home for more than a decade.
A caretaker from the agency, spends all day in the house with the women. Here, Theresa, checks on one elderly resident who was still in bed in the late morning, claiming not be feeling well.
Residents are encouraged, and even required, to share the chores, cooking and cleaning.
A short time after being checked on, Pearl emerges from her room, ready for breakfast. Ronnie, a supervisor with the agency, looks on.
Even among adult women, some tensions can arise. While Pearl eats, Jean mumbles her frustrations with living here and her desires to go back with her family. I get the sense that this happens often, and she is all but ignored by Pearl.
Meanwhile, Flo takes in a few quiet moments with a cigarette outside.
After some time alone in her room, Jean re-emerges as news of an outing to Wal-Mart filters through the house.
Back outside, in anticipation of joining the trip, Theresa is told she just joined the last outing, and there’s not room in the van for her this time around.
In a display of her mental age that requires this kind of supervision, she throws a tantrum.
The other residents react, and wait for the situation to be solved so they can depart.
The program supervisor, Ronnie, put Theresa back into her place with strong, yet kind words, and several minutes later the van pulls away. These are the last moments I spend with them.
Story II: Chris & Josie
Just behind the main house, Chris & Josie share a small ground floor apartment.
Chris suffers from Cerebral Palsy, and is confined to a powered wheelchair. Josie, with Fibromyalgia, is a little more mobile, and does whatever she can for Chris. Having been married for ten years, it was obvious that their lives were much richer having each other.
It was over two weekend days when I visited. Chris likes to spend this time alone in his room, watching sports and playing video games. Though he talked very softly and slowly, even a short time with him revealed that his mind was a sharp as anyone’s, and given a listener, he indeed had a lot to say.
Chris gets cold very easily, and keeps the heat up quite high while he’s alone in his room. Josie pops in to check on him once in a while, but the room being too hot for her, and Chris being focused on his sports, she doesn’t stay long.
Later in the afternoon, it was time for Chris’s bathroom procedures.
Love, a live-in caretake that spends the weekends with Chris & Josie, must help him with almost all of his needs.
Following his cleansing, Chris must be removed from the bath and moved around for other bathroom tasks in a kind of suspended net.
There must be a certain amount of humility lost when not being able fully to take care of yourself, let alone having to be assisted for all things in the bathroom. I have a lot of respect for Chris for these facts, and also for him letting me witness and photograph some of these daily moments.
Josie takes this opportunity to spend a little time in the same room with Chris as she takes care of her routines as well.
Despite their differences and disabilities, they did seem like they were meant to be together. I think there’s plenty we could learn from them.
That’s the brief moments of these people’s lives I was able to experience and capture over two short days of shooting. Of course I would have loved to spend more time learning about them, and telling their stories, but even during four sleepless days of the workshop, there’s only so much you can do.
Finally, I have to give a shout out to my Orange Team (still the best, even if I do say so myself), and our awesome team leaders, Melissa Lyttle with the St Petersburg times in Florida, Carolyn Cole with the LA Times, Nancy Andrews with the Detroit Free Press, Elizabeth Krist, Senior photo editor at National Geographic, and with technical assistance provided by Amanda Lucidon