By Rick Wilking
In the summer of 2011, as a chapter in a broader two-year project on obesity in America, I started a photo story on an almost 300 pound teenager who was planning bariatric surgery as a last resort to lose weight.
When a photojournalist starts a project like this there is always a lot of doubt. How much time will it take? Over how long a period and with how many visits. Will the subjects (and their friends and families) get tired of having me around? Will they cooperate in giving me the access I need? Since it’s a medical story will the hospital and doctors involved cooperate too? And most importantly will the time investment from both my subjects and me produce quality images that convey a compelling story?
After bariatric surgeon Dr. Michael Snyder told me he had a candidate for the project I was introduced to Jazmine Raygoza. Just 17-years-old at the time she was preparing to have a lap-band placed, a highly controversial procedure for a teenager.
I first met her at the psychiatric evaluation young bariatric patients go through and was surprised to learn at that meeting her mother Veronica had just had gastric bypass surgery two months earlier. Now I had an even more interesting story to tell than I planned on.
Last week I shot what will probably be my last picture of the two. Fifteen months after starting the story mom Veronica has lost 73 pounds and daughter Jazmine has lost 87. I myself lost 30 pounds (with no surgery,) just because when I thought of making my normal McDonald’s run I remembered the brave Raygoza women and got a salad somewhere instead.