Sometimes I’m so impressed by a person’s strength and courage in the face adversity that the only thing I can do to understand, experience and honour them is to photograph them. I’m not sure when this switch flipped in my photographic career. As I write this I’m trying to think of the first time that I was driven to photograph someone due to my overwhelming emotional response to them, that person or that person’s situation, I can think of many but I can’t remember the first. Maybe that is a topic for another post. This post and photography session is about Alan Hay.
I met Alan years ago at a party, and more recently started up communication again. Honestly it was a post by Alan showing an xray of his spine and all the metal he had in him that was the impetus for me reaching out to Alan. His post was so positive when faced with a long recovery.
And this was the only way I could respond.
So we chatted back and forth, catching up a little but mostly setting up a time for the shoot. I really wanted to hear Alan’s story the day of the shoot. I felt that letting it hit me as I was about to photograph would creatively help the shoot out.
Alan is an teacher in a school for challenged kids. His back injury is a result of an unexpected physical altercation at the school. Alan was trying to help one of the students call his mother, the exact reason isn’t as important as the fact that the mother didn’t answer. This happened several times, and on the third failed try he spun his 200lb+ body around and punched Alan in the face and then fell on top of him as another teacher came to Alan’s aid. That was the moment that he heard a ‘pop’ in his back, and that moment is the reason for his surgery.
After Alan’s surgery his mobility was greatly reduced. He had a hard time walking, doing stairs became a chore, in fact he couldn’t bend his hips at all past 90 degrees, which made even sitting for long period uncomfortable. He told me about his daily workouts, his walks around the upper level of his house. This sort of repetitive pattern I felt would lend itself to some good photos. So we started out there, with me pressed against a wall trying to get the best framing for Alan’s walk.
I was really interested in having the wall of the hallway act as the spine of the image. I liked the light play of the hallway, the carpet, the clean whiteness of everything contrasting the physical pain that he was feeling as he paced to recovery.
“So you wanna see something funny?
You should see the way I put on my socks.”
So that was easily the second thing to photograph. We set up a chair in the best position and light and he proceeded to ‘shoe horn’ his sock on. Everything seemed to be working there. Alan was comfortable and the scene was working for me so we made a few more portraits there.
These were great and I could have called it quits there, but there was something about the hallway that kept drawing me back. So I had Alan step back into the hall and stand in one place while I tried to make another few portraits. I had him lean against the wall.
The wall, the straight line became more clear to me. I had Alan turn with his back against the wall. The light through the bathroom door framed him perfectly. The light washed over his body from his eyes to his waist, but the door frame separates his head from the rest of his body. I seemed fitting that things worked out this way. I think of how he must have had to separate mind and body to overcome this period in his life. I’m not just talking about the recovery, but the sheer fact of being faced with such a life changing operation. This for me is the best photos from the day.
Finally, I wouldn’t have done my job properly as a photographer if I didn’t take a few frames that not only document the scar, but resonates with my past photographic projects.
During our shoot Alan and I talked gear a bit. You see Alan is also a pretty damn good photographer. He showed me some of his photos from the 2010 Olympics, and also shared the crazy story of how he came about getting his press pass – seriously, never underestimate the power of Craigslist.
Alan has got a little collection of Nikon gear as well. That day, He was kind enough to offer me use of anything in his “gear closet”. That truly blew me away. It’s kind when people offer, but it’s even more meaningful when those people really WANT you to take them up on the offer.
So thanks to Alan for the amazing, inspiring photo session. I only hope that my photos have successfully honoured You and Your strength and positivity. And thank you very much for actually lending me your gear!! It’s because of you that I was able to get killer photos at The Pixies show! (check out Backstagerider.com for the photos)
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