In midst of a world of darkness, see how one photo ended up changing someone's life and shedding a much needed light on the world.
As a photographer and filmmaker, I have come to the realization that through using this medium, I have the ability to change someone's life for the better by using my camera as the main communication device between their story and the world. We have the power to give people a voice that they never had before and see the light in every person we meet. That is truly magical.
Back in December of last year, during my first semester of college, my advisor and I started an initiative. The initiative is called "Owls Among Us." It is a series of short documentary videos produced by student media at Florida Atlantic University on the student, faculty, and staff experience on and off campus. So, in an effort to start off the series strong, I was honored to be asked to direct, shoot, and edit the first film. That is when I was introduced to Bobby.
Ever since he was just six months old, he has been faced with the challenge of living with cerebral palsy and is restricted to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Despite the differences he has on a first glance, it's those differences that make us so unique and special. His personality, attitude, and story shine much deeper. He is lot more similar to all of us than he is different. He has aspirations, dreams, and stories just like the rest of us. Bobby shared with me that he has dreams of becoming a filmmaker and sports broadcaster, and he will do whatever it takes to accomplish those goals.
Bobby lives by three things on a daily basis. To:
Never give up, to always keep trying, and to stay resilient. The only person that controls anything that I do is me.
After I heard this quote, it immediately resonated with me. It reminded me that my problems are so small and to not take for granted the "normal" things we do everyday. Despite the challenges that come my way, I should not let those obstacles stand in the way between me and my dreams.
For the next five weeks, with every second of our free time in between classes, we shot and edited the film from beginning to end. While making this documentary, I was able to experience first hand what he goes through on a daily basis. From waking up in the morning and attending classes with him to following his nightly routine, I was honored to be able to catch a glimpse into his world and capture it. I was able to capture the struggle, but also the triumph of him accomplishing what he sets out to accomplish every day. It was truly an eye-opening experience and something that I will cherish forever. Five weeks later, we completed the film.
Once we finished the documentary, I asked myself: "what next?" How can I take this one step further and truly make a difference in my friend's life? This is where the story picks up.
I remember sitting in class and getting a notification from Twitter on my phone. The post showed that the prestigious coach of the Florida Atlantic University football team, Lane Kiffin, retweeted the video. Kiffin was instantly inspired and touched by the film, and wanted to meet Bobby face to face. He then picked up the phone and called Bobby personally and invited him into his office to talk shop about football and how his semester was going. When Bobby was about to leave his office, Kiffin handed him a pair of sideline tickets and gave him premiere access to celebrate with the team in their locker room after the game. Bobby left his office full of life and grinning ear to ear, knowing that in a school of 30,000 people, someone knew his name and saw a light in him. When the team won their conference game that week, the entire team came over to Bobby and thanked him for inspiring them.
After garnering some more attention and features on the local news and neighborhood papers, I knew I wanted to take it one step further. I wanted to personally thank Bobby for the impact he has had on me. So, I took my camera, tripod, background, and lights and drove to a place that was the most accessible to him and took his portrait. I brought my portrait studio to him. We sat there in the bright sun, laughing and capturing priceless moments together. When I saw the portrait on the back of the screen, I knew I got it. I was able to freeze one moment in time, where despite the obstacles hes been through and his differences, his disability disappeared, and I was able to see the real Bobby, someone who is filled with hope, dedication, and passion to accomplish his dreams, all with a smile on his face.
When our portrait session was done, I headed straight to my print shop. When I got there, I told them: "This one is a special one." I asked if they could get it to me in 24 hours so I could give it to Bobby for Thanksgiving. They kindly replied: "For you and Bobby, yes we will!" So, 24 hours later, I drove back to my college and had the privilege to give him two 11x17 wrapped prints, one for him and one for his family. It was one of the most gratifying experiences seeing him nearly tear up when he saw himself smiling like that. I almost did too. I realized that I have made a difference and brought happiness to not only him but his entire family as well.
One year later, after four years of blood, sweat, and tears, Bobby sits in his now empty dorm room, the place where it all began, just four years ago. He sits there in his cap and gown, graced by feelings of accomplishment and joy. The world is cheering you on! You've touched my life and continue to inspire those around you.
Your saying "If I can accomplish the things I set out to accomplish on a daily basis, there’s absolutely no reason as to why you can’t do the same" is ingrained in my head, and I am honored to be able to share that message to the world.
Do you have someone who inspires you? Go out this holiday season and show appreciation for those who have made a difference in your life! Share your pictures in the comments below!