Meeting Emilia

March 29, 2012 

It's always rewarding to follow-up with subjects of stories past. A few weeks ago, I checked in on some fire victims to see how their tragedies affected their lives. It was really interesting to learn more about them — especially Robert Harvill, whom I hadn't really talked to after his garage caught fire and he suffered smoke inhalation.

That was a mini project I had been thinking about for a while, but it had to come together quickly as deadline approached for our monthly Sunday Extra staff photo story.

We often run updates on stories, and while the same photographer usually gets assigned to shoot follow-ups on reporter-driven stories we worked before, the timing doesn't always work out.

That's why I felt especially lucky to have a chance to meet Emilia Pocasangre last week as she made a special visit to her school for a presentation of money the community donated to help with medical costs associated with her brain tumor.

Last month, reporter Ty Beaver and I visited Cascade Elementary in Kennewick, where Emilia is a kindergarten student. I got some shots of her class as they applauded the announcement of the school's early penny drive success,

and some of the nice gestures her friends were assembling:

Ty then got in touch with her brother Brandon, and we met him after basketball practice at Kennewick High. He was open to us tagging along when he went home. Part of the story was about how Brandon's parents and sister were usually gone these days for her treatments in Seattle. His grandparents were there with some post-practice food, but those shots weren't very compelling:

I started with some portraits in Emilia's room and tried to light them somewhat somberly:

The Tinkerbell-green paint and cheerful, girly decor do help tell the story some, but I didn't like how they fit Brandon's mood for the story. He mentioned that the mini Christmas tree in the living room was Emilia's and that he sometimes turned it on instead of a lamp as a little reminder of her presence, and I felt that portrait fit better:

Last week, Ty followed up with the family and I got to attend the check presentation ceremony. Giant check passings are groan central for photographers, but I knew this one would be different as soon as Emilia came beaming into the room:

Her bright personality after seven major surgeries in her six years of life made the actual check ceremony fun as she excitedly waved to people in the crowd:

You can see some more photos from the ceremony in the photo gallery, but I felt that my take was a little lacking. Timing played a role in that as well, since I decided to get some more video practice in with my new staff Canon 7D, which replaced the solid, but woefully outdated 1D. It's been a few years since we've shot videos regularly at the Herald and getting back in the mindset of doing both takes some adjusting.

I thought the video turned out pretty well considering all the rust I had to shake off a storytelling tool I was never good at using to begin with, but my stills undoubtedly suffered some. I saw a good opportunity for the audio, motion and emotion to help tell the story, though, and spent more time with my weaker skill set. You can see the video attached to the story. Thanks to Eric Degerman for editing it.

It turned out Ty was heading over to the Pocasangres' later that day since he had to cover a different story and missed the ceremony. I tagged along and gave Emilia's colorful room a second go. I wanted the portrait to capture Emilia's personality, and while she's still deep in treatment as her family searches for new options, it was a happy day. She got to see her friends, the community showed strong support and Emilia was rocking a new tutu and excited for an afternoon party at Chuck E. Cheese.

I also learned that her impressive stuffed animal collection was because she got a new poly-filled pal every time she had to make a hospital trip.

She gets lost in the pile too easily, though,

so I channeled her energy in a way that made her the center of attention:

I hope the shot captured her spirit appropriately and that the video did her story justice. Even more, I hope I get the chance to photograph a happy ending to her ordeal. She's got a long road ahead of her and her stylish purple boots are already well-worn, so my greatest hope is that Emilia has a chance to outgrow countless new pairs.

For a pair of cool links...

Petapixel has this feature on Silent World, a clever use of in-camera techniques to show a glimpse of what a post-apocalyptic world might look like. Who's running the electricity though? Petapixel also has a sweet look at architectural photographer Brett Beyer's stitched aerial view of Milstein Hall at Cornell. It's pretty fun zooming in on the interactive image to find little moments, and the painstaking stitching is impressive after seeing lots of great GigaPans and all the imperfections that come with automated assembly.

Want something bigger? Check out this 17,000 x 11,000 pixel image featuring more than 200,000 galaxies. The full-res copy sounds like fun to download, but I'm afraid my computer might melt.

A lawyer arrested for recording officers as they arrested somebody else got a $170,000 settlement 4 1/2 years later from the city of Boston. Arrests for public photography are an all-too-common occurrence these days, but it's good to see courts siding with first-amendment rights.

And the pride of my alma mater, Sol Neelman, got some love on the Lens blog for his weird sports work. His book, which I picked up at Geekfest last fall, is officially getting its stateside release. His journey is pretty inspiring and I hope to one day find something that drives and fuels me as much as weird sports do for Sol.

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