Carolyn Van Houten's photograph of Serenity Bamberger got a Gold award in the Portrait category at the recent CPOY 70, and is a part of Carolyn's CPOY-winning Portfolio. Catching Photo of Yours (CPOY) is a new CPOY Blog feature that gives photographers a chance to share the emotional and technical aspects of making their award-winning photograph.
In my story about the Bambergers rebuilding after the flood, I wanted to show the relationship that the Bambergers had with the Little Blanco River—the river that destroyed their home, their business and their sense of security. The river was bone dry for years before this past Spring. In the months after the water receded from the flood, the river became an almost daily part of the Bamberger’s lives. They would swim in it, celebrate on its shores and check it hourly for flooding when rainstorms came. It was important to me that I show their relationship with the river. I wanted the river to become a subtle character in their story.
In the months leading up to this moment with Serenity in the river, I had photographed the girls in the river many times. There is a steep bank along the river on their property, so sometimes I would photograph from up high. Other times I would carefully climb down and sit on the bank to photograph. However, the river bed was filled with slick rocks, so I did not trust myself to get in with my gear unprotected. To fix this problem, I got a waterproof bag that was big enough to fit my camera inside. A few days later, I returned to the river. After placing the camera in the bag, I started to climb down the bank into the river. Sure enough, the second I fully stepped into the river, I slipped and fell face first and fully clothed into the water. Once Serenity and Cielo stopped laughing at my clumsiness, they went back to swimming and playing as if I wasn’t there. Thankful for my waterproof bag, I stood in the river with my dry camera and let the swirl of activity and water happen around me. A huge oak tree stands on the river bank casting shadows and speckled light across the river. Knowing that Serenity often floats on her back while swimming in the river, I quietly waited until she floated through that speck of light.
Since this image was made, the Bambergers moved into their new home on stilts on their youngest daughter Esme’s first birthday. That same week their property flooded and they were evacuated. Their relationship with the river will always be a tenuous one, but it will take a lot more than losing their home to break the family’s bond with their land and the river.
Brittany Greeson's photograph 'Kenth' got a Silver award in the Portrait category at the recent CPOY 70, and is a part of Brittany's award-winning Documentary project. Catching Photo of Yours (CPOY) is a new CPOY Blog feature that gives photographers a chance to share the emotional and technical aspects of making their award-winning photograph.
This image was taken when I was working on my final project at The Danish School of Media and Journalism in Aarhus, Denmark in the Fall of 2014. A good friend of mine, Soren Degn, told me about an institution for the mentally handicapped called Solund. I instantly fell in love with the people there and the staff members. Kenth, however, caught my attention in a unique way and it was actually through the making of this photo that he did.
I originally began work on the story in an essay form on the entire institution. I had been documenting other people in their living areas. I was simply walking past his room with my camera and the second I ducked my head in to take a photo of him he ducked behind his bedroom wall. It was a matter of seconds. This photograph is of one of those first exchanges. That’s why it’s so important to me, it’s an authentic moment between us and reveals his original feelings toward me. Feelings that quickly faded away as time passed we were able to get closer. It taught me how important relationship building is and I soon realized the story of Solund resided in one person.
In working on this story, my goal was to show the depth of his character and the support network around him. Mentally around 18 months old, Kenth can’t speak for himself. So, I approached his caretakers, Solund’s administrative staff and Kenths parents to pursue the story. I wanted them to be 100 percent on board and never wanted to show them why it was I was doing this story. Sadly, there are a lot of instances that the mentally handicapped are portrayed in a kind of freakshow way. With Kenth, I wanted to do my best to show a sense of beauty that so many people see in him. I learned so much about the empathy of others, a form of empathy I respected and admired. I simultaneously became more interested in how the United States offers care to the mentally handicapped and hope to document those issues further. I think this story will always leave a huge impact on me as a photographer and shape the way I approach more sensitive topics.
Daniel Owen's story 'The Jews of Oradea: A Story of Survival' got a Silver award in the Documentary category at the recent CPOY 70, and is a part of Daniel's award-winning portfolio. Catching Photo of Yours (CPOY) is a new CPOY Blog feature that gives photographers a chance to share the emotional and technical aspects of making their award-winning photograph.
The image is from early on in my documentary about the Jewish community in Oradea, Romania, and, in my opinion, it contains the essence of the story.
The documentary started while I was in Romania working on a separate story about the Roma. During an evening walk to the city center from my house on the edge of town, I noticed an enormous synagogue just sitting there, dilapidated and empty.
The more I learned about the community that once thrived here, the more I felt a responsibility to tell their story. So what was initially a three-week trip turned into ten months, and finishing the piece would mean several trips back to Romania over the next two years.
I was eventually able to get a meeting with the president of the community and propose my story idea. Until then, the community had been very protective of the survivors, and rightly so. I had been told about photographers trying to photograph survivors without any respect for what they had gone through.
I assured them that I had no desire to tell a story that focused only on the Holocaust, whilst ignoring all the good that had been done throughout the community before the war. I wanted to tell the complete story of these people and their struggle to survive. Their history had nearly been erased seventy years ago, and I wanted to do my best to preserve it.
The image was taken during a Torah reading at the Sas Chevra Synagogue, the only functioning synagogue left in the city. I had been invited to be a part of their sacred ritual. I remember shooting and just being aware of the solemnity of the moment. They had survived genocide and now they were reading from this scroll just like their ancestors had done for thousands of years. It was a humbling experience.
Looking through a window into the empty sanctuary, I saw their reflections fill the seats. It was like looking into the past. Thousands of their relatives were murdered simply for being Jewish. Yet despite it all they were still there, and they were still praying. It changed my life.