Category Archives: Home of the Brave

Lauren | Home of the Brave

Lauren-culvert

I met Lauren through my cousin Lorene. Their friendship was forged from the shared experience of a profound, tragic loss.

Kalei, Lorene’s only daughter, was killed instantly in a head-on highway collision. Jarrett, Lauren’s older brother, died unexpectedly of a brain aneurysm when he was 13 years of age and Lauren was 11.

I have met Lauren only twice. The first time at a dinner party hosted by Lorene and once again to take her portrait for Home of the Brave. Lauren and I have never talked about the death of her brother. There are some things you simply can’t explain to those of us who haven’t experienced that kind of trauma.

When I saw this negative on the contact sheet I was lamenting the fact that Lauren’s head was turned away from my camera. I had broken a cardinal rule of portrait photography – ensure you capture the subject’s eyes!

Still, I felt this photograph had something to tell me. Something too complex for words, too sad to be related in a conversation.

And then I saw it.

With a single gesture Lauren had shown me the sacredness of her brother’s story.

And that was all I needed to know.

Silver gelatin print
Hasselblad 500c
Hasselblad 80mm f2.8 lens
Ilford HP5, ISO 400

 

David | Home of the Brave

David-M-Edit

If you were asked to describe a courageous person what would you say? Many of us would start with our heroes and heroines from movies, TV shows, graphic novels and sporting events.

But what does someone with courage look like in the real world? Without a cape (or a sword) they can be hard to identify. Especially when they are a student sitting quietly in the front row of your Media Software for Journalists class.

Last month David attended an on-campus seminar with the rest of our journalism students. The topic was the ethical reporting of mental illness in the news. David’s participation in this event was unique because he was also a guest speaker who took the podium in front of his classmates and told them his story.

When I met David for our portrait session it was several weeks after the seminar. On that particular Friday afternoon I was fighting a massive headache. Searching my pockets for a Tylenol I asked how he liked speaking in public and if he had felt nervous.

“It was a challenge,” he said. “Speaking directly to my classmates was the hardest public speaking engagement I’ve done so far.”

“So far?” I asked, not hiding my surprise. “You mean that wasn’t your first time speaking in public?”

David looked at me for a second and smiled.

“No it wasn’t. I do this all the time. But speaking to my classmates was a challenge. You just don’t know how they are going to react.”

David continued. “I just want to help people out. I don’t want them to experience what I went through. If I can help just one person then it’s worth it for me.”

Feeling deeply inspired can do any number of wonderful things to a person. I never imagined that an instant remedy for a splitting headache would be one of them.

Silver gelatin print
Hasselblad 500c
Hasselblad 80mm f2.8 lens
Ilford HP5, ISO 400

 

Lorene | Home of the Brave

Lorene-diff-2

“We really had no idea what that poor girl went through, did we Dan?”

“No Mom, we didn’t.”

And so began a conversation between my mother and I about my cousin Lorene Holizki’s memoir Forever Kalei’s Mom: A Story about Life, My Child’s Death and What Forever Really Means.

Lorene’s book tells the story of the tragic loss of her beautiful 16-year-old daughter Kalei in a horrific car crash. With heart wrenching honesty Lorene tells her story of profound loss and unfathomable grief. Lorene’s memoir will serve as a survival guide for the bereaved. A literary “jaws of life” for those left behind, crushed under the relentless burden of their grief.

Mom was right. We didn’t know what Lorene went through when Kalei died. Even after reading Forever Kalei’s Mom we still don’t really know. Until I experience the tragic, sudden death of one of my boys – I will never know.

I am convinced, however, that reading my cousin’s book has made me a better person.

I know this to be true because I did not judge Lorene when she laid herself down in front of Kalei’s marker and silently folded her hands on her chest. Surrounded by the comforting silence of the cemetery I witnessed a beautiful, spontaneous expression of a mother’s undying love for her daughter.

I finally got a chance to see what Forever looks like.

Silver gelatin print
Hasselblad 500c
Hasselblad 80mm f2.8 lens
Ilford HP5, ISO 400

 

Heather | Home of the Brave

Heather

When Heather agreed to participate in Home of the Brave I asked if she would choose a location she considers a sanctuary. A place she can go to find inspiration, to recharge.

We agreed to meet Halloween morning in one of the numerous urban parks located in the city in which we live. Our visit began on a wooden bench overlooking a ravine of leafless trees. We talked about our work, the future of journalism, book publishing – and we talked about this project of mine.

“Do you want to go for a walk?” she asked.

We walked a short distance and eventually entered a thicket of trees. My first clue that Heather had taken me somewhere special was her change in tone. She was speaking softly now, with a reverence that reminded me of the muted conversations one hears in a place of worship.

She had led me into her sanctuary. A natural chamber protected by a dense barrier of dormant trees. I could feel the deep connection Heather had with this place.

I don’t remember “seeing” the sweeping branch in the foreground of my frame. But something told me to press the shutter at the exact moment Heather’s sanctuary chose to embrace her.

I am just so thankful I was there to witness it!

Silver gelatin print
Hasselblad 500c
Hasselblad 80mm f2.8 lens
Ilford HP5, ISO 400

 

Lyndon | Home of the Brave

Lyndon

I’ve started a new long-term project.

The inspiration for this series of portraits was a photograph of Robin Williams published the day after his death. The photograph portrayed him as a man on the verge of losing his mind instead of a comedian in the middle of a stand up routine.

The photograph was presented intentionally out of context. Playing directly into the stereotype of what our society thinks mental illness “looks like.” It took less than 24 hours for that media organization to present Robin Williams as a tortured soul rather than the comedic genius and brilliant dramatic actor he actually was.

I visualize this project as a testament to those who have chosen to step out of the shadows to tell their story. A portrait series of advocates doing their part to dispel the myths, stereotypes and stigma associated with some of life’s most difficult personal challenges.

Thank you Lyndon Penner for being the first. Without your participation this project would not have seen the light of day.

If you have a story to tell, live in the Calgary area and would like to participate in this project, please don’t hesitate to post a comment. I will get back to you within 48 hours.

Silver gelatin print
Hasselblad 500c
Hasselblad 80mm f2.8 lens
Ilford HP5, ISO 400

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