Photographers' Blog

Of gain and loss (and the longest story I’ve ever done)

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?

SLIDESHOW: JAZMINE’S TRANSFORMATION

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.

Obesity in America

By Rick Wilking

Almost 2 years ago I started work on a photo documentary simply titled “Obesity in America.”  It’s a simple title but with complex subject matter.

Getting the access, the various permissions from individuals and institutions and working through the convoluted American HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) that protects patient privacy to extremes was quite a challenge. But trying to tell a story with this many layers and permutations was even tougher.

It was a hot topic back in 2010 when I started, with obesity-related stories moving frequently on the Reuters wire but with few images to go with them. I set out to change that and decided to work the project in multiple chapters.

Fitness first for the First Lady

As children’s obesity has dramatically increased in recent years, Michelle Obama had made a cause out of fighting the national trend towards bad diet and too little exercise. Two years ago she launched her “Let’s Move” initiative to improve the diet and fitness of our nation.

According to “Let’s Move”, over the past three decades, childhood obesity rates in America have tripled. “Let’s Move” states that “today, nearly one in three children in America is overweight or obese. Thirty years ago, most people led lives that kept them at a healthy weight. Kids walked to and from school every day, ran around at recess, participated in gym class, and played for hours after school before dinner. Meals were home-cooked with reasonable portion sizes and there was always a vegetable on the plate. Eating fast food was rare and snacking between meals was an occasional treat.”

My, how things have changed! I see it at my own kid’s schools. Students have limited recess activity and physical education classes that seem to be more about eliminating injury than actually providing exercise. On several occasions I’ve gone to the school principal and requested more exercise opportunities for the kids at school. My requests were generally accepted and appreciated. On diet, my kids have never, to my knowledge, eaten at McDonald’s. Down time…..well….we have a saying in our house….”If the sun is out, so are you.” TV and computer time is closely monitored. Am I being a whacky parent, or were there others that thought like me?

Catwalks for all sizes

By Nacho Doce

Three days after photographing the svelte models at the upscale Sao Paulo Fashion Week, I found myself in the crowded backstage of the Miss Brazil Plus-Size beauty pageant, a contrast in every aspect from body size to the organization’s budget and the cost of each dress.


Backstage the overweight models pushed their own dress-filled suitcases with no assistants to help them, very different from the Fashion Week models, each of whom had two or three people dressing, preening, and supervising them.


Television channels filming Miss Plus-Size were offering the stream to reality shows, while at Fashion Week the transmission was to a more serious audience, focusing on present and future stars in the fashion world.

Choosing surgery for weight loss

Obesity.

Just the word is ugly. Morbid obesity sounds even worse, the clinical term for someone with a body mass index of 40 or higher. Morbidly obese usually means someone is at least 100 pounds over their suggested normal weight.

With all the media attention on the topic the word obesity by itself might conjure up images of giant sized people waddling down the sidewalk, pulling into a handicapped parking spot or riding electric carts that have popped up at almost any major store. You might pray you don’t get seated next to “one of them” on a train or an airplane.

The media inevitably run video or photos of giant people shot from behind to go with the latest story on obesity.  Is it because they are protecting the person’s privacy or is it just to emphasize how big they are?

My big, fat photo documentary

An 8-month look at obesity in America

Reuters photojournalists work in many different scenarios. You could be working in a 2’ x 2’ assigned space on the red carpet at the Academy Awards with 1,000 other photographers – we call that a set piece event. If you’re on the sidelines of the NFL Super Bowl or the camera platform at the U.S. presidential inauguration you’re on a set piece event.

Another day you might be covering spot news, shooting a hurricane or tornado, a school shooting or a tragedy like the space shuttle crash.

Then, there’s enterprise work which can be the most difficult of all. From the story idea, to getting cooperative subjects and access, to the shooting itself: enterprise journalism is all up to you and using your imagination and creativity. My recently completed project on obesity in America was such a piece.

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