Today I found myself in the East Room of the White House as President Barack Obama signed into law a Veterans Spending Bill which is designed to keep funding for veterans’ medical care flowing during future budget negotiations. In this image below he stands contemplative during a pause in his speech in front of a beautiful painting of George Washington who with arm outstretched points back to him. President Obama is interesting to watch as he speaks. Its actually kind of odd the way he focuses so intently and pauses on the words that he reads from the teleprompter. I can see the gears in his head moving when he takes a breath between his words and there is so much more that he could say off the cuff. Regardless, I find the juxtaposition in this picture amusing to say the least. One can draw all sorts of parallels between the two men. With four decades of military service and as one who oversaw many battles which resulted in wounded and dead soldiers and eventually the independence of our nation - while the first president may not have supported this bill - I know he would have supported the Americans that it is designed to help, which is how I think President Obama felt today. The bill may not help the VA and its budget troubles, but the intent to help our veterans is honorable.
Posts categorized as "Editorial"
I was tasked with photographing newly appointed Assistant Secretary for Health in the Department of Health and Human Services, Howard Koh left, and his brother Harold Koh, Legal Adviser to the United States Department of State. My assignment from the Boston Globe was to photograph the high-ranking siblings in the Obama administration during an interview with a Globe reporter. However, having shot a lot of situations like this before I knew that it would be a challenge to capture something really nice and natural. So I decided to arrive early with a cart of gear in tow to the HHS building near the Capitol to pre-set a nicely lit portrait so I could at least know I had something strong in the bag in case the interview was a bust. I knew I would not have much time so was ready before they arrived and when it came down to it shot for no more than a few minutes. The two light set was an overhead gridded softbox and gridded spot on the wall behind them to give some separation. Thankfully Harold Koh allowed me to capture something that I had not expected when he pulled out his point and shoot to make a few photos of his brother’s new office which he was seeing for the first time. The bottom line is that being prepared for the expected as well as unexpected is a huge key to my success.
Almost ten years ago, Sasha Chanoff traveled into a crowded ICRC refugee center near Kinshasa with a list of 113 names of Tutsi refugees that he was authorized to take from the violence and torture of Congo’s civil war back to the United States. He met Rose Mapendo whose family had been arrested and imprisoned by Congolese soldiers who later killed her husband. She survived for over a year in a prison camp with her seven children giving birth to premature twins on the hard floor where she had to beg for a piece of bamboo to cut their umbilical cords.
Rose and her family were not on Sasha’s list, and his team had to wrestle with the certainty that if left in the camp her twins would die and the potential for jeopardizing the entire mission by adding people to the flight they had arranged. They made their decision and today Rose lives in Arizona with her family and works with Sasha. Together, they and a small team make up Mapendo International working to help those affected by war and conflict that have been missed by humanitarian assistance. They do amazing work and I was touched by this story. It is just one in millions and should make us all stop and consider the luxury of freedom and safety that we enjoy.
When I met Rose in her hotel room in Washington this week she greeted a documentary film crew that has been following her for two years with a huge grin and big hugs. In passing she mentioned that she loves giving hugs and how tall I was. Before I left, I said, “how about that hug now?” She threw her arms around me and I felt myself starting to tear up. She is amazing and has experienced hardships that I will likely never know. It’s hard to describe how it felt but I am a changed person. This is another example of why I feel so lucky to be a photojournalist. Now I feel much more compelled to spend more of my time volunteering and though my work making a difference in someone’s life.
The French magazine Challenges just published a portrait I took of Shai Agassi who is Founder and CEO of Better Place which is a leading electric vehicle services provider that is focused on sustainable transportation with zero-emission electric vehicles powered by electricity from renewable sources. The article is here and you can read more about Better Place here.
I am constantly humbled by the amazing people that I have the privilege to meet and photograph. When it comes to this feeling of humility, there are no boundaries between my editorial, portrait, wedding or corporate work. Amazing people are simply amazing. Last Thursday I photographed Dr. Gladys Monterroso for the Washington Post and her story will haunt me for a very long time. She lives with the brutal memory of a harrowing experience that I would never ever wish upon anyone. Post staff writer Manuel Roig-Franzia tells her story here.
About Jay Premack
Jay is an unobtrusive documentarian, who insists that the best pictures happen when events unfold naturally. As an individual, Jay is pretty laid back, a demeanor that’s ideal for weddings. Amidst orchestrated chaos, he’s a calming presence.