I had big plans for this blog at the start of 2013.
My resolution to begin last year was “Work harder. See differently,” and more than any other year, I felt like I met that goal. I discovered treasure troves of inspiration through connecting with other photographers on Twitter, Instagram and communities like A Photo a Day, which helped push me through a creative wall I’d felt stymied by for years. I made time to work on stories I really cared about, and when I wasn’t working, I hit the road with my girlfriend to explore new places(I miss you, Tennessee, Niagara Falls, and especially you, Asheville). Most of all, I finally stayed in one apartment for more than 12 months, which gave me the time to establish some roots and completely fall in love with my South Philly neighborhood. I had a ton of pictures documenting all of it, and I couldn’t wait to share them here in a series of “best-of” blog posts. I thought it was all pretty important, and I was wrong.
Of the thousands of pictures I took last year, the only one I care about now is this one of my dad. I shot it about three weeks ago with my phone while we sang “Happy Birthday” to my mom. It’s grainy. It’s not quite in focus, and I love it more than anything. Four days after this picture, he underwent surgery for a brain tumor and suffered a stroke during the operation, leaving him paralyzed on his right side and mostly unable to speak. That was two weeks ago today.
My dad is the most gentle, selfless man I’ve ever known. Since his first bout with this brain tumor forced him to give up his career as a nurse anesthetist years ago, he’s constantly sought new ways to give, volunteering as a hospice worker, delivering food to the elderly, grading papers at the local elementary school, and always saying “sure, pal” each time I called to say, “Dad, can you help me with (insert ridiculous request here).” His entire life has been about finding ways to give, and now that he finally needs someone to give back, there’s nothing that I can do for him. It’s a feeling of helplessness that has settled so deep inside me that it makes it hard to breathe sometimes.
For two weeks he’s been stuck in a bed at UPenn, awake and fully aware of what’s going on, but unable to move or say more than a word or two. I sit in his hospital room for hours every night as my mom feeds him and doctors and nurses come in and out, asking him the same questions over and over: “Can you tell me your name?” “What month is it?” “Where are you right now?” He knows all of the answers, but he can’t translate his thoughts into words, and so he just stares for a bit before closing his eyes in frustration and disappointment. It’s a hellish kind of prison that I can’t ever imagine being trapped in. Each night when I leave, he tries to ask me to do something for him, likely some simple request to make him a bit more comfortable after a lifetime of never asking anyone for anything, but he can’t get the words out. I try for a few minutes to figure out what he wants, but each night ends the same way: he sees that I don’t understand, and not wanting me to trouble myself, just says “I love you” and signals for me to go. There’s nothing I can do but say “I love you, too,” go home, and hope that tomorrow will get just a bit easier.
I realize that this situation isn’t unique. People are dealing with this and worse, all around, every day. But it’s the first time I’ve been faced with watching someone I love truly suffer, so it’s the first time that I’ve realized how meaningless the things are that I used to give so much importance to.
I always have a camera, and I take pictures of everything. But as we sat around a birthday cake singing to my mom, I saw that my dad, knowing he was going to have brain surgery in just a few days, still felt completely peaceful and content because he was surrounded by the people he loved. It was a feeling I needed to capture in any way that I could, so I grabbed the only camera I had. Now I look at it, and I realize that I haven’t spent nearly enough time capturing and appreciating the things that really matter. That will be my resolution for 2013, and as always, my dad has set the standard that I’ll reach for.
It was 65 degrees today and I only had one assignment, which meant I got to spend the afternoon
playing working at Neshaminy State Park in Bensalem. If you weren’t able to get outside and enjoy the weather, don’t worry, these kids had more than enough fun for you while running around the banks of the Delaware River collecting shells.
A few images from President Obama’s speech at the Rodon Group, the U.S. manufacturer for K’NEX children’s toys, in Hatfield Friday. This was the third time I’ve had the opportunity to photograph the president, and I like to think that I’ve gotten a bit better each time at making thoughtful images that document the scene, while still taking a moment to appreciate the awesome opportunity and responsibility of covering the most recognizable man in the world. I’m glad I have my job and not his.
I know the names backwards and forwards: Milroy, Reedsville, Burnham, Port Royal, Mifflintown and a dozen or so more. They’re towns I’ve passed more times than I can count, but I’ve never known them as anything more than white letters pasted on green highway exit signs.
On Fall weekends, tens of thousands of people make the 200-mile drive from Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs, passing those same signs as they make their way along Route 322, destined for Beaver Stadium and Penn State football. My guess is that, like me, everyone who makes that drive knows those same names, but nothing about the places or the people.
I’ve had it in the back of my mind for a long time that I’d like to do some kind of project profiling each of the towns named on the exit signs along that 80 mile stretch of 322. Last weekend, I was driving home from a weekend trip to State College when I realized that, for the first time in a long time, I was making that drive alone and had nowhere I needed to be. I pulled off at the next exit, which was Port Royal. I only had my iPhone, and it was early on a Sunday morning so things were pretty quiet, but I had a great time just walking the streets for an hour or so checking the place out. The pictures above are essentially just my scribbled notes, a chance to finally get something down on paper, so to speak, but it was a start, and I’m more excited than ever about making this idea a reality.
If you’re from any of those areas in central Pennsylvania, know anything about them or have any thoughts about the project, I’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment below or email me: stanleyphoto at gmail.com. Thanks!
The Eagles haven’t won a game since September. The Phillies are following up their nightmare season with the announcement that Carlos Ruiz will be suspended 25 games after testing positive for an amphetamine. The Sixers superstar offseason acquisition, Andrew Bynum, might not play a single game this year, which would be the same amount as the Flyers due to the ongoing NHL lockout.
The calendar says it’s another month away, but I think we can say that Winter has come to Philadelphia.
Thanksgiving is both my favorite holiday and my favorite holiday to work, and for the same reasons: it’s centered around family, football and community.
Before the annual football game between Harry S. Truman and Conwell-Egan, I wandered through the tailgates and met Pete “Pop” Stillwagon playing wiffle ball with his two-year-old grandson Max. Stillwagon, a 1979 alumnus of Bishop Egan, said that he and his brothers have been tailgating on the same field every Thanksgiving morning for 20 years. With the school narrowly escaping closure by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia last year, the day took on special significance this year. “Even if the school closed,” Stillwagon said, “even if there wasn’t a game, we’d still be out here. But hopefully, he(Max) will go here one day too.”
After the tailgates and Truman’s narrow upset of Conwell-Egan, I went to Spotlight Deliverance Temple in Bristol Borough, where for six years Mae Bennett and her family have cooked and served a Thanksgiving meal for the area’s homeless. Mae purchases and cooks all of the food herself, and every Thanksgiving, her extended family comes together from throughout the region to help her serve it before they sit down together with the leftovers for their own Thanksgiving dinner.
Finally, I ended the day at my parents’ house, where I got to play with my nieces, watch football with my brother and eat my mom’s turkey and mashed potatoes. Add it all up, and that’s a tough day to top.
Reason I love my job #153: perspective.
I haven’t been updating my blog much lately. I have plenty of excuses for why, but the main one is that I’m running the Philadelphia Marathon on Sunday, and preparing for that has consumed much of my life lately. My thought process this week has been a frenetic mess that looks something like this: “Am I eating too many carbs? Not enough carbs? Should I wear long sleeves or short sleeves? Am I hydrating enough? Am I really ready? Should I be stretching more? How tight should I lace my shoes? When did I become so neurotic?” That’s it. That’s the universe that I live in.
Suhaila Teran is six. She was walking along a road with her mom near their home in Peru when they were struck by a police SUV. Her mother lost her legs. Suhaila was lucky to only lose one. Right now, she is thousands of miles from home, staying at the Ronald McDonald House in Northeast Philadelphia while she receives treatment at Saint Christopher’s Hospital for Children. That’s her universe.
She was one of a handful of kids I got to meet last night while visiting the Ronald McDonald House with Stella and Lil’ Abner, a pair of 120+ pound French Mastiff therapy dogs who excel at their job of being gentle and affectionate with fragile children a fraction of their size.
After a few minutes of giggling as she maneuvered her wheelchair between the massive dogs, Suhaila retreated to the corner, whispering for a long time into the ear of her interpreter. I couldn’t help but notice that between whispers, they kept glancing my way. I felt terrible, thinking that the presence of this strange photographer was keeping her from enjoying what should have been a bright spot in her day. When they finished, they both came straight towards me with one request: “Suhaila was hoping you could take a picture of her with Stella. She is making a scrapbook of her memories here, and she would like to remember this.” Cue heart melting.
I won’t pretend that this gave me such perspective that I’m no longer anxious about the marathon, but I’m certain that at some point during the run, when the burning in my legs reaches a boil, I’ll remember how lucky I am to be out there in the first place and enjoy the whole experience just a bit more.
Two days after shooting the Eagles and Giants on Sunday night football, I was thrilled to be back on the sidelines for some high school sports as Bensalem soccer played Neshaminy to a 2-2 tie. Sure there’s no media workroom with greasy food and sugary drinks, but it’s so nice to be able to roam the sidelines without TV crews moving in front of you, and the clean, dark backgrounds from certain points on the field are a photographer’s dream.
Eagles fans and Brian Dawkins finally got to say a proper goodbye Sunday. From fans packing the concourse hours before game time just to catch a glimpse of the former heart and soul of the franchise, to Dawkins thrilling the crowd by crawling out of the tunnel during player introductions, the whole night was charged with an energy befitting someone who played with more passion and intensity than any athlete I’ve ever seen.