Our first stop today was at Frank Fournier’s studio in the Bronx, and we spent the rest of the day with Alan Chin and Tony Suau, founding members of Facing Change. Frank spent two hours talking with us about the goals of contact press and his career, and Alan and Tony showed us their work as well as talking about the agency and the ideas behind it. The two groups have a lot of similar reasons for doing what they do. Frank spoke about Contact Press as an organization that supports the photographs their photographers make. They don’t allow photos to be abused or taken out of context by publications. He stressed that the story is the most important thing, and said that the agency made sure that his photographs of AIDS weren’t used to promote the many anti-gay agendas of the time. He wanted his photographs to help promote understanding by informing people.
Alan and Tony told us that Facing Change an attempt at keeping the way photographers work the same in the face of a rapidly changing industry. Alan said he works the same as he always did and has a group that supports that. While the industry declines and spends less time chasing important, longer term stories, photographers have to create new opportunities to do the same work.
Between the Northern Short Course and this trip, I have listened to a lot of great photographers talk about their work. I have noticed that the ones I gravitate to have something in common, and it’s something that was mentioned by Dave Labelle at the shot course.
It’s nice to hear a photographer talk about the subject. The epic tale of the hurdles the photographer had to jump over to tell the story is irrelevant. Photos get you part of the way there, and captions bring you closer still, but the story is really brought home when you hear the photographer talk about the subject and their reasons for caring about the story. Alan, Tony, and Frank all exhibited that today.
On the way to Frank’s studio this morning, Aaron and I saw a man begging passers-by to call 911 as he fell to his knees on the sidewalk.
The very first thought in my mind was that we were already running a risk of being late because of our lack of subway knowledge.
My second thought was of the bystander effect. It’s tough to admit how much understanding I gained for the phenomenon through analyzing my own thought process and how shockingly close I came to being just another person that walked by without helping.
Then, the only woman who had stopped looked in my direction and asked if anyone was a doctor. I vaguely remembered being told that the first response of someone who had no idea what to do was to look elsewhere to help, and that the first responders often mean the difference between life and death. I now realize she was talking to dispatch at the time and they had probably told her to yell for a doctor. Nonetheless, that made me realize this guy might not have anything better than my rusty CPR skills available to him. Still not sure that I’d actually be able to act if the need arose (but hoping that if I forced myself into the situation that I’d lose the chance to chicken out), I got down on the sidewalk and asked for his name.
Mark Jones thrust his blackberry into my hands and asked that I call his office to let them know what was happening. I told the woman who answered that he was on the sidewalk at the 6th and 131st intersection and that his defibrillator was going off. He kept trying to talk before he was cut off by the apparently excruciating shocks he was getting from the device in his chest, and she hung up in a panic just as I recognized the terrible fear I had just introduced into a stranger’s life.
The defibrillator finally stopped and Mark was able to talk. I watched the woman who had called for a doctor grab his hands in hers and tell him everything was fine, and that the people surrounding us wouldn’t let anything bad happen. I looked around, and suddenly got strangely concerned for the safety of his briefcase. I dragged it closer.
He turned and gave me his wife’s number. I didn’t get through so I left a message, this time trying to cushion the news with the fact that he was surrounded by people and an ambulance was moments away.
When it arrived, I put my hand on Mark’s back and told him again that he’d be fine. He thanked me. I put his blackberry back into his hand, stood up, and started walking towards the nearest uptown subway.
I imagine there are thousands of people named Mark Jones in the city. I don’t really have any way of knowing what happened. I might have attempted to remember his wife’s number so I could follow up, or asked for the contact information for the woman who called 911, or waited long enough to see him loaded into the ambulance so I could find out what hospital he was going to. I’m not sure why I anonymized myself to the people there by just leaving as soon as I saw that things were as under control as they could be.
Deeper than the necessity of studying CPR on a semi-regular basis, I think there’s something to be learned from this. Unfortunately, I don’t know what it is yet. I haven’t really experienced any emotions as a result of the experience, and I think I have a while until I am able to completely understand the way I handled things.