"The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera." - Dorothea Lange

Sunday, January 05, 2014


Team 7 is making its way back to the US, dodging the various snowstorms that have been wreaking havoc in the skies and on the ground, thus drawing to a conclusion another successful Change the Truth adventure in Uganda.

The Kansas Chief Chiefs lost a heartbreaking wild card playoff game to the Colts yesterday, putting an end to my football-watching season.

And Eddie and I are making our way toward the fourth season of Breaking Bad. Only one more to go after that.

So on this wintry morning, while considering things that are coming to a close, I am also looking forward to what lies ahead.

In the short term, it is a photography project. I have been asked by an attorney representing burn victims to make pictures of several clients: straightforward shots documenting their burn scars and a couple of nice portraits.

My first session was this past Friday. I had no idea what to expect, having never done anything quite like this before. What I got was a super sweet, easy going, confident, funny, handsome young man named Mike. He had been badly burned in an accident when he was nine years old. Eight-five percent of his body was affected.

Going into this, I had convinced myself the portrait should go beyond the scars, that someone like Mike shouldn’t be described by the tragedy that befell him.  The more we talked, and the more I got to know him, though, the more I began to understand that the accident and everything that’s happened to him since, have, of course, played a huge role in shaping who he is today. Maybe I was naïve to think that his scars would not define him.

Mike spent six months in the hospital immediately following the accident. He has had over thirty surgeries since then. He was a growing boy, after all, and the painful skin grafts have had to accommodate stretching and expanding. He had to be tutored, because he missed a lot of school. He’s had to make peace with a body that looks different from the others he sees in the locker room at the gym.

But Mike is totally cool with it. He’s comfortable in that skin of his – a patchwork of varying patterns and textures. He finished school with the rest of his class and is now in college. He said he and his girlfriend had just broken up, but no biggie. He and I talked about our favorite characters on Breaking Bad. Oh my God, could you believe what Mike got away with when Tucco’s weird cousin was in the hospital after Hank shot him? He loves to work out, chill with friends and work with computers. He’s pretty much a regular 21-year old kid.

But, of course, he’s anything but that. A guy like this has had to reach down deep - over and over again - to find a certain set of strengths he probably didn’t know were there. Surely that has transformed him.

Of all the things I thought might happen during the session, the one I least expected was this: I was truly inspired.

The thing that really moved me was how trusting Mike was. And how confident he was. And how un-bitter and un-cynical he was.

I kept thinking about something Diane Arbus had once said about photographing “freaks.” When I got home, I looked it up. Remove the word “freak” please because it does not apply. The rest of the quote absolutely does:

Most people go through life dreading they’ll have a traumatic experience. Freaks were born with their trauma. They’ve already passed their test in life. They’re aristocrats.”


Anonymous said...

Beautifully written Gloria.

Unknown said...

This is a beautiful portrait,Gloria, and a beautiful tribute to all who have visible, physical scars.