Category Editorial

Fighting Cancer with a Warrior Spirit

Trevor Maxwell
Trevor Maxwell, founder of Man Up to Cancer.  Cape Elizabeth, ME.
© Brian Fitzgerald.

Mostly we experience all three in succession—phases, rather than permanent states. That certainly seems to be true of my friend Trevor Maxwell, the founder of Man Up to Cancer, a support network to connect men dealing with the disease.

I’ve known Trevor since we both worked as journalists at the Portland Press Herald, now officially a Long Time Ago. At different points in time and independent of each other we both ended up leaving the paper, and our journalism careers, deciding to strike out on our own—me as a commercial photographer; Trevor as a communications and media consultant.

He discovered, like me, that with age comes inevitable physical changes and health challenges. Unlike me, he was faced with a true monster—a stage IV colon cancer diagnosis in 2018 at the age of 41.

As he related later, the diagnosis hit him hard, with depression so strong on top of the physical sickness that confined him to bed on most days. Eventually, he made a promise to his family that he would get the help he needed to regain his mental and physical health.

Trevor Maxwell
© Brian Fitzgerald

Two years later—and despite the Covid-19 pandemic, no less, Trevor launched Man Up To Cancer, along with a podcast that continues to grow and support men who, like Trevor, once felt isolated and alone in their struggle. The company’s howling wolf logo and tagline, “Open Heart, Warrior Spirit” speaks to Trevor’s approach, somewhat unique among cancer support groups that tend to be softer, more feminine and involve pink ribbons.

Clearly, Trevor has decisively moved into a phase of purposeful action, even as he continues treatment for his own cancer. 

I photographed Trevor this summer near the grand oak tree that has stood on his family’s Cape Elizabeth property for decades (check out the moving, beautiful tribute created by Roger McCord). I’m inspired by seeing how far Trevor has come and how he’s made it his mission to help others using his own unique talents and voice.

In normal times that would be something special. In 2020, it seems downright heroic.

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Read more about Man Up to Cancer or  subscribe to the Man Up to Cancer podcast.

 

Showcase: The Women of the Maine Fisheries & Wildlife

Cartographer
Michele Watkins, GIS Specialist-Cartographer.  © Brian Fitzgerald

 

Beginning in 2019, I worked with the great people at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife (MDIFW) to create location portraits for an ongoing recruitment campaign. These portraits were to feature the game wardens, biologists, educators, cartographers and others who together protect Maine’s wildlife, habitat and the people who enjoy them.

It’s hard to imagine it would be difficult to find people willing to sign up for a job where their office is the great outdoors, but being part of the MDIFW team also means sacrificing physical comfort—especially on winter days spent outside when the thermometer never breaks north of zero degrees. And as with any job in law enforcement, Maine game wardens must confront difficult and dangerous situations, often in remote places.

I spent some very cold days with a few of the MDIFW team members at several locations around central and southern Maine. It was a blast. My favorite kinds of portraits are those that rely on mood, connection and place to create a real moment and tell a story about a person and a place. I hope in some small way that these images successfully do just that. My hope is to capture a sense of each person’s personality while showing the variety of environments they work in—their ever-changing office—day in and day out, in every season of the year.

 
Maine Game Warden
Sarah Miller, Maine Game Warden.  © Brian Fitzgerald

 

 
wildlife biologist
Sarah Spencer, wildlife biologist.  ©Brian Fitzgerald

 

 
field biologist
Sarah Boyden, biologist.  © Brian Fitzgerald

 

wildlife biologist
Danielle D’Auria, wildlife biologist.  © Brian Fitzgerald

 

Marine Biologist
Liz Thorndike, fisheries biologist. © Brian Fitzgerald

 

Environmental Portraits: Take it Outside

Female Lobsterman
© Brian Fitzgerald
 
 
This June, after several months of working remotely (almost entirely indoors), I’ve been fortunate to be able to get back to creating new images for my clients.   Now that the days are growing warm it’s been the perfect time for my clients to take advantage of the short but beautiful summer season here in Maine by having their commercial portraits done outside. 
 
There are two primary types of portraits I’ve been making.  One is an editorial-style environmental portrait, where the setting is an important storytelling aspect of the final image.   Context is an important part of this type of portrait, since the background ends up being a secondary subject in the image. 
 
The other portrait type is more of a cinematic headshot portrait, where there is an environmental feel but the focus is entirely on the subject–it’s a great way to photograph a doctor, lawyer or financial professional far from their normal work environs and still make it seem professional and natural to do so.  
 
 
 
Businessman outside

© Brian Fitzgerald
 
I’m finding myself taking my studio on the road more and more often, photographing my clients outdoors and on location where conditions may be more changeable and unpredicatable but the results are often more striking.   It brings me back to my roots as an Arizona photojournalist, hauling out my Norman 200B flash heads to compete with the sun to make a memorable portrait.   
 
So consider outdoor portraits as an option that could work for your business or brand.  
 
Businesswoman outside
© Brian Fitzgerald
 
 
 
 
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This is a Time for Heroes

Deputy Sheriff
York County Sheriff’s Deputy Steven Thistlewood.

These are extraordinary times. Extraordinary for many reasons, yet perhaps the most striking is that most of us are being asked to do our best by…doing nothing at all.

At least, it feels that way.

Staying at home. Keeping our physical distance from others. Helping our kids, our loved ones and trying to stay sane ourselves.

Life is not normal for us. We may be staying in one place, but we aren’t exactly doing nothing. We are willing ourselves to not take action so that we can protect others, often at great personal and financial cost.


But what about those who don’t have the choice—whether by necessity or by mandate—to stay home?


I’m referring of course to many of the people who I’ve spent a career photographing:  the police, the firefighters, the paramedics, and the medical professionals.  But this group also includes the sanitation workers, the grocery store workers, the pharmacists, the pizza guy and the mail carrier. All are front-line workers in this time of fear and contraction.


So take a moment and reflect on the sacrifice so many are making while many of us stay home.  We all must do our part.

emergency drill
Maine Medical Center staff during a biohazard drill–part of the extensive preparations they’ve undertaken to prepare for the current Covid-19 pandemic.

On Giving More

A little initiative and a lot of hustle turned a project to photograph firefighters for a fund raiser into a project depicting firefighters as always on duty and (over) committed to their work, called “Everyday Heroes”.

I grew up Catholic, which might explain why I have a deep-seated belief that anything good in my life must be accompanied by a healthy amount of suffering.

That’s not the healthiest story to tell oneself,  but I’ve come to replace it with  another, more powerful story:  if you want good value or results—a great shoot, great assignments, great clients—then you have to first give great value.

What does ‘value’ mean? It means that you should do your best to be remarkable in your work, your attitude, your professionalism. It means that you ask first how you can help before you ask for help. It means that you give more value than your client expects. It means that when you are on a shoot, you go that extra mile: look for an extra angle, take a creative risk and push yourself to take something different once you’ve satisfied your client’s needs. Sometimes you’ll end up with something that surprises you and delights your client.

If you consistently do this and have the attitude of giving more than you are getting, you’ll find—like I have—that you get an amazing amount of value in return.

It starts with you.



Arrested: Stories Behind the Badge

Maine Cops
Pete Herring, District Game Warden with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, photographed at Lake Arrowhead in Southern Maine.  Herring retrieved the drowned body of 15-year-old Jaden Dremsa in the lake after a nine-day search.  “It takes you out of the uniform of a game warden and into the clothes of a parent,” he said of the case. “The search united the community. It touched the whole community. Being able to watch the family process it, it helped me to process things too.”  Herring spent 18 years in the Maine Department of Corrections as a prison guard and an investigator before becoming a game warden in 2009.

I didn’t initially set out to photograph Maine cops.

As a newspaper photojournalist I spent years covering fatal car accidents, fires and the occasional armed standoff. My interactions with police were polite, professional and purely transactional. It’s fair to say that we viewed each other with a healthy wariness that at times seemed adversarial. My job as I saw it, on the behalf of the public’s right to know, was to make the images that would best tell the story. As far as I could tell at the time, a cop’s job was to thwart my ability to easily do so. To be fair, I imagine that to them I was a pain in the ass at best, an annoying gnat with a press pass. A problem that sometimes made their jobs a lot harder.

We coexisted, at times uneasily. I certainly encountered many officers who treated me fairly. They taught me a lot about professionalism and coolness under pressure. I realized: It takes a certain kind of person to put on a badge, strap a gun to their hip and patrol dark streets. Cops are like you and me, but they aren’t. They belong to a unique tribe of men and women that is often closed to outsiders. Whether seen as heros or opressors the reality is that a badge carries more weight than the metal it’s made of.

Maine Cops
“I had two goals at that point: I wanted to try to help this woman get out of this life and I wanted to find the guy that did this to her. I just thought to myself, this is supposed to be a peaceful place and it’s so isolated, dark, and pitch-black down here. She must have been scared to death.”
Detective Sgt. Steve Webster (ret.), a 30-year veteran of the South Portland police department, discussing an incident where a female prostitute was beaten by her john and left for dead among the gravestones at South Portland’s Forest City Cemetery.

Back in 2004, I was embedded with Army Reserve’s 737th Transportation Company in the Middle East. I found the soliders, wary of my presence at first, relaxed once they got to know me. The stories I wrote were less about what they did and why they did it—why they had made the choice to serve thousands of miles from home, to say goodbye to their families for months or years at a time. I enjoyed getting to know the people they were and no matter my personal thoughts on the war it changed my perspective on soliders—and by extension, cops—forever.

Years later, living in Maine, I met and photographed South Portland Detective Sgt. Steve Webster (now retired) for a book he’d written about a case involving a little girl who he’d promised to find justice for (he did). He handed me a signed copy of his book and I read it. Somewhere in the back of my mind, the idea of making portraits of officers at the exact locations where they had experienced life-changing, career-changing incidents was born.

I met with Webster and the idea gelled further. He encouraged me to expand the idea—to photograph officers from various types of agencies across the geographic span of the state.

“The biggest problem you’ll have,” he said, “is that cops don’t like to talk.” That was an understatement. He agreed to introduce me to Pete Herring, a Maine Warden. Pete introduced me to York County Deputy Steven Thistlewood. And one opened the door for another, as slowly I met and photographed officers from Acton to Ashland.

It remains an incomplete project. There are 146 law enforcement agencies in Maine, employing more than 2500 police officers, according to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics’ 2008 Census of State and Local Law Enforcement Agencies.

I’ve photographed less than a dozen.

I’ve had conversations with them about events that happened months or in many cases years before, but it might have been yesterday. The trauma is still fresh, the wound still raw: moments where time is measured in milliseconds and layered with sound, color and smell. Winslow Chief Shawn O’Leary recalls the moment he fired at a man threatening him with a knife, the slide of his weapon ejecting spent casings and smoke as if in super slow motion; the billowing puffs of the man’s shirt as the rounds impacted. One. Two. Three.

Maine Cops
Shawn O’Leary, Chief of Police for Winslow, Maine. O’Leary started his career as a patrol officer in Brunswick, Maine and eventually retired as a lieutenant. He later worked as a captain for the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Department before becoming Winslow’s police chief in 2014.
In 1997, O’Leary shot and killed a man who attacked him with a knife. Later he was sued by the man’s family.
“I felt that the experience made me grow even though it was really hard. I think the toughest things that you go through in life make you stronger, and I’m a fighter. I hit some deep low places for some years with my career and with my wife and my kids. But I (wasn’t) going to let the bastard win. I think I also owed it to everybody that was still [in the police department] because in the event that it happened again, I’d be there.”
I chose to photograph them in the same locations where the painful or meaningful events happened to them—either the same spot or as close to them as possible. Forest Ranger Bill Greaves stands on the gravelly outline where the trailer once stood that housed the man who shot him and a deputy in 1989. Marine Patrol Corrie Roberts sways on the deck of her bobbing patrol boat, the Protector, yards from the spot where she leapt onto the deck of a runway lobster boat whose owner had died of a heart attack at the helm.

Sgt. Steven Thistlewood wipes tears from his eyes on the spot where 12 years earlier—almost to the day—he and his partner shot and killed a man who was trying his best to end their lives. It’s the first time he’s revisited the site.

Maine Warden Pete Herring braces himself in a blowing snowstorm on the shores of Lake Arrowhead, where months earlier he had recovered the body of a drowned teenager.

All of these men and women have incredible stories, each tied indelibly to the places in Maine where they happened. Each story, and each officer is as unique and varied as the geography of this state.

It’s my hope that seeing the stories and viewing the images will give a better connection to, and understanding of, the men and women who put their bodies and lives on the line for the public good.

Cops are people, which means there are good ones and bad ones. Lucky and unlucky ones. But read the stories and look at the portraits and ask yourself: if you wore that badge and were in their shoes, what would you have done?

To see the images, please click here.

Maine Cops
“That’s the thing about law enforcement officers. We file things. I have seen, smelled and touched so many things that people could never imagine. We just file it. We deal with it. At some point it starts to eat at you.” ⠀ ⠀ Sgt. Steven Thistlewood has spent 18 years with the York County Sheriff’s Department. He found himself reflecting on an incident in 2003 when he was forced to use deadly force on a mentally-ill man attacking him with a gun. “I grew up wanting to be a flight paramedic. That was what I was going to do. You know—save lives—and here I (was) taking a life.” ⠀ ⠀ Part of a photo project on Maine law officers and the hazards they encounter on duty.

Arrested: Stories Behind the Badge

Arrested: Stories Behind the Badge
Maine Game Warden Pete Herring, photographed on the shore of Lake Arrowhead near Waterboro, ME.

For the first time, I’m publishing a few images from a project on Maine’s Peace Officers that I’ve been working on for over a year with the working title, Arrested:  Stories Behind the Badge.

Arrested’ is a series of portraits of law enforcement officers from across the state of Maine, photographed at the actual locations where they experienced a life-altering incident on the job.

The diversity of situations the officers I’ve interviewed have been incredible: some have been shot; others have had to use their weapons. Some have been injured, some have saved lives. All have had to react in situations that required skill, judgement and humanity.

Nationally, the idea that cops are dangerous and out of control, and are to be feared–this is an additional burden on officers in Maine, many of whom police the same communities they and their families live in. When a difficult incident occurs, they are reminded of it every time they pass the spot where it occurred.

Arrested: Stories Behind the Badge
Photographing at the scene of a house fire rescue, Old Orchard Beach, ME.

This project is an attempt to convey the reality of the difficult work officers do every day. I’m thankful to the officers who have participated. I’d like to say that it’s been a good experience for them to share their stories, but I also know it’s not been easy for people who tend to avoid the spotlight.

It’s been an incredible experience for me as well and I hope to share the complete project, as well as the many stories, soon.

Arrested: Stories Behind the Badge
York County Sheriff’s Deputy, Sgt. Steven Thistlewood.

Make them love you. Hint: it’s in the details.

 

Storytellilng detail images from an assignment about a local water district.
Storytelling detail images from an assignment about a local water district.

 

No photographer is an island. We own our creativity but everything else—our technology, our access, our assignments—are enabled by others.  Even our creativity is enhanced by our collaboration with the art producers, editors and designers with whom we work most closely.  These are the folks that take the work we create and publish it, display it, print it and turn it into amazing displays, stories and campaigns.

Without them, we’re just shooting cool photos and sharing them on Facebook.

I try to approach each assignment as if I were back at the newspaper. Even if the assignment was to make a single simple portrait, I went into each job thinking about what else I might photograph. Back then, I challenged myself to come back with a three-picture package that told the story and might give the page designers more options. I always looked for storytelling details to include, too.  That approach gave the designers the ability to use images as teasers on the front page, for example. Sometimes designers used none of it.  Months down the road, looking for a timeless detail image to illustrate a different story, they’d see my image and  find it a perfect fit. This storytelling approach challenged me creatively, led to better visual play and better designer/editor kharma that I’m hoping will benefit me in my next life. It’s something I still do today, reflexively.

The editorial assignment photographer needs to always look for telling details. Sometimes these visual metaphors are more compelling, more storytelling than the ‘main’ image itself. In commercial photography, these types of details are just as important. In an era when companies have greater ability to publish content on their sites, there’s an even greater need for storytelling details that can be used as evergreen content, on company blogs and in ad campaigns.

Details also come in handy for designers who need a key visual element, or require ‘filler’ content, etc. These details solve a lot of visual problems. Having a photographer who actively looks for them is a big win because it gives the designer options.

The thinking photographer who goes the extra mile for their editor or designer will be the go-to photographer for those people. Realize that the assignment isn’t just about the image being requested, just as your job is not solely about you.

 

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Native Sons

nativesons-1

 

Back in the early part of the 2000s, I was chief photographer of the Yakima (Wash.) Herald-Republic, a Seattle Times Company newspaper centrally located in the part of Washington State Seattlites refer to as “the Dry Side”, among other things.

Yakima derived its name from its nearest neighbor—the sprawling reservation of the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation.    Comprised of 14 separate Columbia River tribes, the Yakamas now occupy a 2,185-square-mile sized territory that includes a portion of nearby Pahto (12,281-foot-tall Mt. Adams).

Growing up in Northern Arizona, I’ve always lived around and interacted with Native Americans.  My first reporting job out of college was to cover the Yavapai-Apache in Arizona’s Verde Valley.   When I moved to Yakima, years later, I was eager to explore the Yakamas.   A proud people, the Yakamas still live on a portion of the ancestral lands and practice their hunting, gathering and fishing traditions as best they can.   They fought the US Army in the 1800s until a federal treaty recognizing their rights was signed.  They fought many battles in federal court since, with precent-setting law the result.

For much of five years I met with interviewed and photographed many Yakama tribal members, and met many new friends along the way.  One of the results was a project with writer Phil Ferolito, published as a special newspaper section, called “Native Sons:  The Men of the Yakama Nation”.    As best we could, we attempted to show the unique struggles, challenges and triumphs of different generations of Yakama men and their families.    I’m proud of what we were able to do, but so much more could have been done to promote understanding and appreciation of Yakama, and native, culture and life realities.  See the pages of the published project below.

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Just Published: Pop Photo + Roller Derby Dolls

This is pretty fun—this month’s issue of Popular Photography Magazine features a two-page spread of my image of a Portland, Maine roller derby team in their regular “How * Lighting” feature. It’s a simple lighting setup that is extremely effective in creating a sense of drama. In a word, perfect for a subject like the roller derby dolls.

PopPhoto_RollerDerby_WEB