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Tuesday, April 2, 2013


University of South Florida St. Petersburg student Jennifer Jones interviewed me for her Research Methods in Mass Communications class. The focus of Jones’ interview was my work from 2007 to 2009 with Flashes of Hope, a national non-profit that organizes professional photo shoots for children diagnosed with cancer. The interview appears below. A recent article on the Tampa Bay chapter of Flashes of Hope appears on the All Children's Hospital web site here.

1. How long have you been a member of the American Society of Media Photographers?

Since 2003 when I joined as a graduate student.

2. How long have you participated as a Flashes of Hope photographer?

I launched the Tampa Bay chapter in the spring of 2007 after contacting the founder Alison Clarke via telephone. As it turned out, her son Quinn, whose battle with cancer led her to create Flashes of Hope, had been treated by Dr. Michael Nieder, an oncologist who had left the Cleveland Clinic to work with All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg. We hit it off on the phone and she felt that we had the right personnel and hospital in place to get a chapter going very quickly.

3. Why did you first decide to work with Flashes of Hope?

Photographers take. Period. Rarely, do we give back and the mission of Flashes of Hope seemed the perfect way to truly make a palpable difference by taking a photograph. I felt that FOH was a truly unique organization and a profoundly relevant one for families dealing with unspeakable situations — children with cancer or life-limiting illnesses.

4. Do you remember your first photo shoot with Flashes of Hope? If yes, can you please tell me about it (location, subject, your feelings/reactions, etc.)?

The first photo shoot was a learning experience but we pulled it off without issue. I had a compact flash card fail and the photographer that I brought to shoot the studio portraits was unsure how to configure things in the confines of the patient waiting room. It was unchartered territory but we improvised, much like I often have to do when doing location portraiture. Alison Clarke came to that shoot and Dr. Nieder was on site and it proved to be a great launch for the chapter and one to build on for the future.

Allison Clarke, Dr. Michael Nieder and I at the first Tampa Bay shoot

5. I understand that hospital rooms are often transformed into elaborate photo shoots for the Flashes of Hope children. Do you design the sets for your photo shoots with Flashes of Hope? If yes, what was your favorite set design, if any?

My favorite set is one that works and that makes it simple for the families. When working with children who are sick and families who are tired and emotionally strained, it is easiest to use a simple cloth backdrop and a lighting set up that is easy to manage. It is not the time to be improvising or experimenting and it is definitely not a training ground for amateur photographers. I usually will use two to three lights with a studio setting and I prefer a black or mottled gray backdrop. When shooting in the Immunology Ward, I will often use one light bounced back into an umbrella. In those situations, you really have to keep it simple and functional as all of the equipment that you take in has to be cleaned with bleach wipes.

6. During your work with Flashes of Hope, do you form a bond with any of the children you photograph? Please elaborate.

If you are a good photographer, then you are able to work with people and get them to do what you need them to do to make a picture. I feel like I forged bonds with several of the children and their families and the images are the legacy.

7. What child's/family's story, if any (or many), had the greatest impact on your life?

Many affected me but there isn’t one that stands out. They ground you, providing a sense of perspective on your own life. The challenges I face paled in comparison to those of a family with a child battling cancer. It always serves as a reminder to make each day count and try to give back when you have an opportunity that could make a difference.

8. I know that you are best known for your portraits and travel photography. However, what is your favorite subject matter to photograph?

Travel is my passion as a photographer but it accounts for a very small percentage of my income as a visual professional. It’s a challenge to try and convey the essence of a place with photography and I relish that opportunity.

9. You seem to travel quite a bit for your work. Is there any place where you have not yet traveled to that you have always wanted to photograph? Where and why?

Antarctica is at the top of my list as I’ve never been and due to tourism and climate change, it’s changing quickly. Honestly, that moniker applies to all of the destinations that are highest on my list, which includes Russia, China and Africa.

10. How do such trips make you feel? What kinds of experiences do you encounter?

I’m not sure how to answer that other to say that travel and experiences that can broaden my outlook make me feel the most alive. I’m proud of my education but I feel strongly that you learn more about yourself and the world by going out and taking risks and really seeing it.

11. What is your next project that you are working on?

I am currently completing work on a project in Hawaii that was done with USF’s Alliance for Integrated Spatial Technologies and the National Park Service. I am also working on a new series of black and white landscape photographs photographed with a 4x5 film camera. 
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