Everyday Heroes

 

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I’m very excited to finally be able to share one of the coolest projects I am grateful to have worked on this year. It’s a project that combined both my interests and my skills and best of all….it benefits a great and worthy cause.

The Cause
The Fight for Air Climb is a fundraising effort that benefits the American Lung Association.    Firefighters and others from around the country participate in these ‘climbs’, in which entrants are timed on their ascent of a skyscraper or other high structure.   The Firefighter Challenge pits teams of firefighters against one another, each vying for the best time, the most money raised (and bragging rights).   Unlike other competitors, firefighters are required to wear their full gear—turnouts, helmets, gloves, boots and oxygen tanks.   In the process, these teams raise big money for ALA research and advocacy.

 

The Project
In 2013, a 12-member team from Auburn, Maine climbed 41 floors (82 flights) during the Boston Fight For Air Climb (each wearing more than 50 pounds of additional weight)  and crushed the other 40 firefighter teams from around New England.   On the heels of their success, this year the team set the goal of raising $10,000 for the charity.  They decided to do a charity calendar, and earlier this year approached me and asked for my help (Hint: I said yes).

 

The Concept
I first met with Team Captain Dan Masselli to discuss several concepts for the project.   I think he was a bit nervous, thinking that I might propose doing a “beefcake” style shoot with half-naked and oiled firefighters.   I’d done some research and found plenty of examples of such calendars done by other departments, that varied from high-production fashion shoots to glorified ‘selfies’ printed on what looked like a mimeograph machine.   What I didn’t see was much in the way of a unified conceptual approach that told a story of the team and showed the kind of personality that I knew would resonate better with the community.
Dan and the team loved my initial ideas, which led to the “Everyday Heroes” concept.    While firefighters are often portrayed as heroes, 90 (maybe even 95) per cent of the time they aren’t actually doing impossibly heroic things like pulling people from mangled cars, manning hoses at  high-rise apartment blazes or giving oxygen to a kitten.   Most of the time, their heroics are of a decidedly mundane nature: changing a baby’s diaper, putting out a smoking BBQ grill or mowing a senior’s lawn.  We’d show that stuff….just in full turn-out gear, of course.

 

The Challenge
As a photographer there were some obvious–and not so obvious–challenges to overcome. One was how to create 12 different conceptual images on location—each requiring lighting and planning, props and ‘models’—and to make it all happen within their tight deadlines.  The other was how to make the scenarios both realistic and over-the-top at the same time, all the while contending with logistical challenges like the weather.
We eventually photographed everything over the course of three jam-packed days in October.   Each shoot was planned down to the detail,  but with plenty of flexibility in the case of last-minute changes to plan.   It was a good thing we did.
The final image we made—of the entire team, standing in front of their firetrucks—is dramatic and one of my favorites from the whole shoot.  It also almost didn’t happen.   We originally planned to photograph the team just after sunset in front of the city’s ”burn building’—a concrete structure behind the Central Fire Station that the firefighters fill with smoke and use for training. When the time came, the burn building wasn’t available. So we ended up at at a different station entirely.   One of the trucks we needed was missing, and when the firefighters went to retrieve it, they were diverted to take an emergency call.    With daylight burning, we were out a second truck and half our firefighters.  Nervously we waited, prepping our gear and going over various other scenarios for how to salvage the shoot.  Three minutes after the sun disappeared, the truck rolled back in, we positioned it, set up our smoke and lights, arranged the group and shot 69 images, including the tests. The one that we used was taken at 6:18 pm.

 

The Result
As fun (and sometimes nerve-wracking) as the shooting days were, I am very happy with the final results.  I’m most gratified that they capture the personality of the Auburn team, and that they show them as what they are—a bunch of hard-working, good-natured guys who do a lot besides save lives and property.    The calendars are printed and are available for sale—primarily at locations around Auburn, but I’m told that if you email Dan Masselli he can help you to trade $15 for your very own copy, delivered to your home.     It’s a great cause, and certainly worth the price of three coffees.

 

The Video
Charlie Widdis, assistant extraordinairre, put together a short behind-the-scenes video of the project as well—it’s especially impressive knowing that he did that in between helping me set up and shoot my stills.  I hope you like it!