Happy Memorial Day!

May 28, 2012

I’d like to take a quick moment to wish everyone a Happy Memorial Day. I spent last night at a cookout at the house of one of my good friends, Brian – a Marine I met while studying abroad in Argentina.  A house full of Marines and their families – talk about a perfect way to remind yourself what Memorial Day is all about.

For my senior thesis, I had the pleasure of spending a year following the lives of the Cashion Family. Joe Cashion is a Sergeant in the Army and volunteered for a six-month deployment to Afghanistan. I followed the family before, during and after Joe’s deployment. I learned so much from them and will always treasure the way they opened their lives to me.

In honor of Memorial Day, I wanted to re-post the multimedia project I created.

Some of you may have wondered what happened to me after my Argentina Adventures. Well, I cried a few days over Malbec and Tango withdrawal, then I spent a couple of months of quality time with my family in Ohio (which was pretty great). And this past December, I packed my things and moved to Charleston, South Carolina to start my life in the “real world”.

For the past couple of years, I’ve worked as an intern with Microburst Learning, an e-learning company based in South Carolina, and after my graduation in December, I started with them as a full-time employee. My job duties have increased in both quantity and responsibility level and I’ve spent the past five months adjusting to those changes.

So far, I love living in Charleston (who wouldn’t?!) and I have really enjoyed the new challenges my new role has offered me. When I’m not traveling to film, I work from home – which is pretty freakin’ awesome, but it also means that I don’t spend a lot of time with my fellow employees. A few months ago, I decided I wanted to organize an event that the whole Microburst team could do together. Which brings me to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation

One-half of Team Microburst Learning (we split into two groups for the walk) with our fabulous sand castle.

My mom is a nurse and has worked with Cystic Fibrosis patients throughout her career. We also have a family history of the disease so my brothers and I grew up with a broad understanding of CF. And, I remember going to functions and camps run by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation as a child. So, when I was looking for a group to volunteer with when I moved to Charleston, the CF Foundation came to mind.

Every year CFF does a walk called Great Strides to raise money for CF research. Luckily, I convinced my coworkers to start a corporate team with me and we just participated in the walk a week ago. So far, our team has raised $1000! And, just as importantly, we had an awesome time at the walk!

Enjoying some downtown with the daughters of two of my co-workers.

We opted to participate in the “Challenge” Course which involved ten challenges such as sand darts, charades and sand castle building. All the activities were really fun and I’m proud to say that our team WON the Challenge Course!

Team Microburst Learning working tirelessly on our sand castle. Doing this challenge with so many creative people was a lot of fun!

The husbands of two of my co-workers enthusiastically accept our Challenge Course award.

We topped off the day with some good ol’ Southern BBQ and ice cream. Yum, yum!

Moving forward, I plan to continue working with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation (we’re in the middle of planning a bike race!). Have you been to any fun charity events lately?

A couple of weeks ago, I had the wonderful opportunity to photograph a hair drive at the Bishop England High School on Daniel’s Island, South Carolina. Christine Ronco, a teacher at Bishop England, organized the drive for Locks of Love, a non-profit organization that provides hairpieces to children suffering from long-term medial hair loss.

McKenzi Mazur, a sophomore at Bishop England High School, nervously waits while her hair is cut.

Ronco told the students about the drive last fall, giving the girls almost an entire school year to grow their locks.

McKenzi Mazur, an energetic sophomore, said she was “really nervous” but was glad that she decided to donate. “It’s the least I could do – I wanted to do it for kids who are sick”.

Christine Ronco, the teacher who organized the hair drive, was one of two faculty members who participated in the drive.

A crowd of students gathered in the courtyard at Bishop England High School to watch the Hair Drive during their lunch hour.

Prior to the drive, Ronco had a list of 30 girls who were going to donate. By the end of the lunch hour, over 75 girls had donated up to a foot of their hair!

The youngest donor, Phoebe Govett, 7, was one of the calmest in the face of the shears. Her mother, Ashley Govett, said that she had been wanting to donate her hair for a long time. When she heard about the school drive from a friend, she asked if she could bring Phoebe along. “I wanted to donate to a kid who doesn’t have any hair,” Phoebe told me.

Phoebe Govett, 7, admires her new, shorter hair.

The drive was a huge success and I really enjoyed spending the afternoon at the event.

Sidney Copleston, a student at Bishop England High School, can’t hide her fear while her long locks are cut. “Oh my gosh! It’s all gone!” she exclaimed afterwards.

A Year of Changes

April 21, 2011

This past Tuesday I defended my thesis for the University of South Carolina Honors College.  I’ve worked on this project for over a year now and I feel both sad and incredibly accomplished to see it finally complete.  Although, as my director Denise McGill wisely said, “Photo projects are never truly complete, just abandoned upon deadline”.  That pretty much sums up how I feel about this project.  It feels complete, yet there are many things I would love to go back and re-shoot or explore further.  But, I am incredibly proud of how far I’ve come in the past year and incredibly grateful to the Cashion family for letting me into their lives.

Below is the gist of what I presented on Tuesday.  If you have any questions, feel free to email me or post a comment below.

"When Emilee ran up to me in the airport, I thought 'Wow, she has gotten bigger'. I wasn’t gone that long, it was only about six months that I was away from the house," Joe Cashion said about his homecoming from a six-month deployment in Afghanistan.

Intro to Project

I first met Joe and Lindy Cashion on April 13 of last year.  They graciously allowed me into their lives to document their experiences with military deployment.  I doubt they knew what they were getting themselves into because I proceeded to spend nearly a year photographing and videotaping their everyday lives and sitting down with them for interviews.

Joe Cashion, a Public Affairs Officer for the Army National Guard, volunteered for a six-month deployment to Afghanistan. I wanted to document the struggles a soldier’s family faces during his deployment, to share the story of the Cashion family and their experience, and to give viewers a better understanding of the life of a soldier’s family.  Throughout the course of the project, I followed Lindy and her family through their daily lives, photographing both the simple moments and the big events all families experience, ultimately producing a fifteen-minute audio slideshow to tell their story

What I Learned/How I Changed

As a result of this project my photography skills, my interview skills, and my ability to connect with a subject all improved.  This project was very challenging, yet incredibly rewarding, in many ways.  One of the first issues I ran into was Joe and Lindy’s oldest daughter, Sarah’s resistance to being photographed.  While this was extremely normal behavior for a 13-year-old girl, it made it difficult for me to get to know her and to learn about her.  I finally realized that if I put the camera down and simply sat and talked to her, she was much more open with me.  I helped her with her math homework, I talked to her about school, what it’s like to be in college, I showed her my Facebook profile, we talked about boys.  All of this interaction helped me to get to know who Sarah is without needing to formally ask.  Once I started building that rapport with her, I noticed that she was much more receptive to being photographed.  That was a huge lesson for me – learning when to put the camera down.

I also became much more comfortable in my “photographer’s skin”.  Like many beginning photographers, I always felt uncomfortable getting inside people’s “bubbles”.  This project forced me to get over that in many ways.  First, at the airport when Joe left for deployment, I knew I only had one shot to get some good photos.  Therefore, I forced my apprehensions aside in pursuit of that goal.  Also, after a couple of visits to the Cashion house, I began to get very bored taking photos from the same perspectives.  To challenge myself and to enhance the quality of the photos for this project, I forced myself to try new angles and positions. I also learned to be more patient.  Rather than bouncing around from place to place, chasing a moment, I learned to wait for one to happen where I was.

Another challenge I encountered with this project came in the form of interviewing.  I repeatedly struggled with finding the right questions to ask.  But, I was very conscious of doing everything in an ethical way – I did not want to lead them to give me the answers I wanted.  But, there were times when I understood what the Cashions were trying to say, but they said it in a way that made it either difficult to understand or gave an impression I was sure they were not intending.  I learned that there are many implicit things about human communication that cannot be portrayed through a video camera or a tape recorder.  So, it’s up to the interviewer to ask questions that draw out the most articulate and thought out answers. 

Speaking of ethics, I was very conscious of ethical standards throughout this process.  I wanted to be sure that this story was told by Joe and Lindy and their family.  I didn’t want to narrate it.  I wanted it to be their story.  To me, the politics of the situation didn’t matter, any personal feelings or beliefs, positive or negative, that I held toward the military didn’t matter.  It was about what this family experienced during a military deployment and how that experience was indicative of other American families.  Because of this decision, I was very careful during my editing to remain true to what really happened.  While the story is not told in chronological order, I believe that it is not misleading either.  Throughout the editing process, I learned that what material you leave out is just as important as what material you leave in.

I also struggled with feeling like I constantly “took” from the Cashions yet gave them nothing in return.  I came into their home, was witness to intimate moments of their lives and made pictures of them.  I could not understand why they were so willing to let me in while receiving little in return.  I began to understand that they wanted their story told and they wanted this important moment in their lives documented.  I also realized that the best gift I could give them was to tell their story honestly and fairly.

Finally, I learned a lot about U.S. military.  I have little experience with the military and other than a few distant cousins, I know no one currently serving.  Honestly, I could go days without feeling like the current war even effects me.  I think that is partly what drove me to this project.  I wanted to know more about the current war and who it was affecting.  I knew there were people making huge, daily sacrifices for my safety and I wanted to learn about them.  I think the American public is very distanced from this war.   This story gave me a way to feel more connected to it.

In many ways, the Cashions were not at all what I expected.  First, I thought they would live on the base.  Second, I expected I would be paired with a young 20-something, newly married couple.  Instead, I met Joe and Lindy, married for more than a decade with two kids who lived in rural Ridgeway, SC on land formerly owned by Lindy’s parents.  In retrospect, it was the perfect family for this project.  I got to witness and document how a 13-year-old and a three-year-old reacted to their father’s absence – fascinating in both the similarities and differences.  I got to speak with Joe’s parents about their disagreements with his decision.  I got to witness life in rural South Carolina – something I was missing out on while I lived in Columbia.

I look back at the photos I was making a year ago and am shocked at the progress I’ve made.  This story gave me both the time and motivation to make mistakes and learn from them, to try new techniques and take new risks – all of which greatly benefited my photography. 

In order the fulfill the South Carolina Honors College Senior Thesis requirement, I spent nearly a year documenting the lives of the Cashion family of Ridgeway, South Carolina through photography, audio and video, ultimately producing an audio slideshow to tell their story.

Sergeant Joe Cashion, an Army Public Affairs Officer, was deployed to Kandahar, Afghanistan, a deployment for which he volunteered. Before, during and after his deployment, I followed the lives of his wife, Lindy, and their two daughters, Sarah (13) and Emilee (3).  I wanted to document the struggles a soldier’s family faces during his deployment, to share the story of the Cashion family and their unique experience, and to give viewers a better understanding of the life of a soldier’s family.  Throughout the course of the project, I followed Lindy and her family through their daily lives, photographing both the simple moments and the big events all families experience.

After working on this for a year, I feel both relieved and sad to see this end.  This has been a wonderful experience – I have grown so much as a photographer and I had the privilege of being a witness to this family’s life.

 

South Carolina Tops Furman

October 4, 2010

On Saturday, September 18, the University of South Carolina Gamecocks played the Furman University Knights at Willams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, SC.  The Gamecocks beat the Paladins 38-19.  I was lucky enough to get my hands on a press pass and spent the game on the sidelines, photographing the game.  This was my first time shooting football and it was a much faster sport than I expected!  Those big guys can move!  After the first half, I started to get used to it and am pretty pleased with some of the images I captured.  Here are a few from that night.

 

*Correction: A previous version of this post referred to Furman as the Knights rather than the Paladins – sorry Furman!

Meet the Cashions

July 20, 2010

Even though I haven’t done much posting this summer, I have been quite busy and I thought it was time I showed you some evidence.  As a student in the Honors College at the University of South Carolina, I’m required to complete a senior thesis.  Rather than write a 40+ page paper, I decided to put my visual skills to good use and do a multimedia story.

Sgt. Cashion walks with his youngest daughter Emilee, 2, to the airport gate. Cashion left in May for training before leaving on deployment.

After brainstorming for awhile, I finally found a subject that I found compelling.  Since May, I have been following a military family in rural South Carolina.  The father, Joe Cashion, a Sergeant in the Army was recently deployed on a volunteer, six-month deployment.  Joe and his wife, Lindy, have graciously allowed me into their lives.  I’ve been documenting the family as they prepared for Joe’s deployment, watched them say goodbye the day Joe left, and have watched Lindy adjust to life at home with their two daughters, Sarah, 13, and Emilee, 3, during Joe’s absence.  Once again, I’ve been amazed by the incredible willingness of people to open up their lives to me.

Sarah, 12, plays with her cousins at Joe's going away party.

Other than two grandfathers who fought in WWII, I have no immediate family members in the military, so this is a new and fascinating world to me.  I’ve enjoyed learning about the ins and outs of the military and, more importantly, how that impacts this particular family.  Most of all, I’ve loved getting to know this family as they share their story with me.

I will continue to post updates on this story, so stay tuned!

Lindy Cashion exchanges an emotional goodbye as her husband, Joe, leaves for a volunteer deployment in Afghanistan.