Back in May, Seattle Met got in touch to illustrate a brilliant story written by James Ross Gardner about the issue of bullying.
The design director and I discussed the idea of shooting in a bedroom to push the notion of bullying also taking place outside of school via cyberbullying through Facebook, Twitter and text.
While developing the piece, I recalled a young man that moved to my town in the eleventh grade. He was bullied relentlessly by 2 or 3 cowards for a couple months, and then - out of nowhere - he committed suicide. I imagined his desperation in the evening, perhaps under the sheets of his bed, knowing the next day would never come.
When younger, we think no one could understand the intricacies of life. We think we've got it all figured out. Some of us think we can handle it on our own and that asking for help displays weakness. It's promising to see the work of Dan Savage with his It Gets Better Project since nothing like this existed in my youth.
It's also very smart since technology and being online is just a part of being a child nowadays. Someone being bullied withdraws into themselves, and the computer is a great way to escape and show them another world outside the one they're in. How empowering and exciting to find a whole network of individuals telling them to hold on, that things change for the better.
As the photographic side of the project progressed, the writer's story developed into a first person account of bullying. It became apparent that shooting in an actual school might be more appropriate. Knowing that public school systems are incredibly difficult to penetrate, I started to think outside the box.
There was an old elementary school (now community center) in the University district that housed a learning center called the Academy of Precision Learning, so I headed up there to bounce the delicate subject around.
In a word, the location was perfect. Dramatically long hallways, an impressive staircase. The best part was the academy's Executive Director, Jennifer Annable, who welcomed me with open arms. Because the issue of bullying was luckily a non-factor at her school, she and her children - with parental consent - were excited to help shed light on the issue.
Below are a few outtakes undertaken while tackling the project.
I liked the tension of keeping those cast anonymous since one might infer that bullies could be anyone, even your own children.
Also tackled an option with a social media/female perspective.
In the end, they went with the image below which I feel is pretty powerful.
I value the opportunity being given to me to investigate the matter of bullying photographically, however uncomfortable and upsetting it is. We all need to continue pressing ourselves to take steps in the right direction to end bullying once and for all.
Many thanks to the children, parents and members of staff at APL who helped with this project.