By Rick Wilking
My wife and I were just about to open some little gifts celebrating our 36th wedding anniversary on May 20th when my cellphone rang.
I said “that’s going to be the Oklahoma call” without even seeing it was Bob Strong, North America Editor in Charge, on the other end. The presents went on hold and the packing began.
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?
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.
By Rick Wilking
Do a Google search on this new celebrity and there are 299,000,000 results. Brad Pitt? No, he only has 187 million. I’m talking about the newest phenom in the world of sports – Tim Tebow.
Being a Denver-based photographer where Tebow plays starting quarterback for the Broncos has kept me in the vortex of the Tebow storm. Going back to his first start late last season and then training camp in August, we’ve been focusing on his young career. Would he start this year or would he not was the hot topic back in late summer. Kyle Orton was eventually chosen as starter but when the team went 1–4 Tebow got the nod and Orton was out. Then the fun really began.
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 population sign outside the town reads “1.” The one refers to Elsie Eiler, 77.
That makes Monowi, Nebraska the smallest incorporated town in America.
I was assigned to go there recently and produce a photo story to go with text that had been written much earlier. With this place really in the middle of nowhere it was problematic to send a photographer just to shoot this one person.
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.
While covering Hurricane Katrina ripping through New Orleans five years ago, it struck me how the individual events that unfolded in the aftermath echoed similar tragedies I had photographed around the globe.
It was like several stories in one – a hurricane of course, but there was little typical hurricane damage in the city. In fact, before the levees broke and it turned into a flood story I was close to leaving to move further east along the coast to cover the near-total devastation in Mississippi.
By Rick Wilking
DENVER (Reuters Life!) – Zachary had always been a big child but when he turned 10, his weight started to rise rapidly and he stopped going outside to play.
His parents, who had thought Zachary would “grow into his weight,” become concerned as their son seemed to lose his zest for life and any interest in taking part in anything active.
Rick Wilking is a Reuters contract photojournalist based in Denver, Colorado who has been shooting for Reuters for almost 25 years based in Europe, Washington, D.C. and now in Colorado. Rick recently developed the idea of spending time documenting the lives of a Christian “Quiverfull” family who have 15 children due to their belief that all family planning is best left in the hands of God. Rick produced the following piece of multimedia video from his time spent with the Jeub family in Colorado and tells us about the experience below. - Jim Bourg
I am convinced that the easiest part of my job is taking pictures. Coming up with story ideas, getting access and then producing the final results are MUCH tougher! That was very true with this story. I read about Christian Quiverfull-minded folks who closely follow and live by Christian scripture and biblical verses and decided to try to find one of these families to document. I begged my way into a Quiverfull forum on the web and was met there with much skepticism about letting me in. One family in Kansas said maybe and another back east said I could come by. But neither were enthused and I knew the travel budget was too tight for a trip that distant and long.Then I found the Jeub family, only a 90 minute drive away from my home in Colorado. They too were tentative at first but let me in after seeing stories I had done recently in their area. My work documenting the headquarters of the “Focus on the Family” organization, portraying troops returning from Iraq at a nearby military base and covering “The Purity Ball”, a Christian father-daughter event all convinced them of my fairness and the integrity of my photojournalism. They said they prayed on it hard and were led to let me into their home to tell their story through pictures and sound.Quiverfull, like any other belief system or philosophy, takes different forms. Believers generally view children as a gift from God and avoid all forms of birth control. To many, including the Jeubs, the movement means trusting God entirely to decide your family size by surrendering your life to God. The Jeubs say that goes for their reproductive life too. “Wendy and I believe God wants us to trust Him in our family planning. The results are his to deal out. We’re more than fine by that. We are amazed (italics theirs) at how incredible the blessings have been…..We have 15 children, but why would we say that #16 wasn’t a blessing? Or #17? Or #18?”Once I met the Jeubs it was really just about being a fly on the wall witnessing what goes on normally in their lives and their home. Chris told the attendees during a church service held in their home that one of the best things about a photographer is that they are invisible. He then proceeded to introduce me.Producing the video after the fact took almost as much time as shooting the pictures and video did. I think it is worth it though because the power of the images is just enhanced with motion, music and narration by the people involved. This old dog just decided to learn some new tricks and record audio and embrace video technology in addition to shooting still photos late last year. I’ve been working for Reuters for almost 25 years but this is my first video project.