For years, I've received great satisfaction from photographing people and events for community services such as Safe Haven—a home for abused women and children—United Way, and Family Services. It's my way of saying thanks to those services for helping people lead a life that is manageable when the odds are not in their favor.
The project I enjoyed most was a calendar I shot for the Waterbury, Connecticut, firefighters. After seeing a New York State firemen's calendar, they decided to produce one of their own and donate the profits to the Children's Burn Camp in Connecticut. They asked me to create the photographs.
Making It Happen
When the firefighters came to me in 2005, I was thrilled. The head of the project was firefighter Scott Breive. After getting exorbitant price quotes from printers, he found one that would work within their budget.
Next, he had to find 12 guys pumped up and brave enough for the photos. The project called for shirts off, a bit of a tan, skin sprayed with baby oil to show off those pecs—and enough confidence to put up with all the catcalls, hooting, and whistling from the firefighters who didn't have the nerve.
We shot for four intense days in September 2005 in the largest firehouse in town. Using available light only, I shot with my Fujifilm FinePix S2 Pro and a Tamron XR 28-300mm lens on a Bogen tripod. Fortunately, there were no fire calls during the shoot. since all the men were on duty.
To change things up, I asked one fireman to spray water from a big hose up in the air and down on Scott Breive (Mr. June) like rain on a hot summer day. Scott was soaked and frozen, but he gave his all. The 12 firefighters were all willing to work. The hard part for me—I'm 5'2"—was hollering to a guy who's 6'7" and shy, "Pump it up! Grunt! Don't smile! Suck it in!" It was exhausting, but we all loved it.
For the calendar cover, I photographed the 12 men on their newest hook-and- ladder engine, then overlaid the calendar title and charity name. My name appears on the bottom of the cover and on each page under the name of the firefighter. Being in control of calendar design, I was able to control my photo credits as well.
By mid-September, the calendar was printed. The firefighters held the first of several autograph sessions at a Mexican-themed bar frequented by female school teachers. The shipment of calendars arrived at 7 p.m., hot off the presses. By 8:30 that evening, every one of those calendars had been sold.
The next day, the calendar was the cover story of the city paper. Soon, a teaser of images appeared on TV during the 11 p.m. news. In a few weeks, a New Haven television station ran a five-minute piece on the 6 o'clock news. The men were becoming famous statewide.
In October 2005, they met with the Connecticut Burns Care Foundation to present them with a check for $16,000. That's 1,600 calendars sold at $10 each.
Even Better in 2007
With the success of their 2006 calendar, the men decided to do it again for 2007. More firefighters turned out than we needed, but they are determined to be included in 2008's pages.
I told Scott I was thinking of shooting some of the photos in a house where there had been a fire. The men found one that was still hot and smoky. They told me where not to stand so I wouldn't fall through to the first floor. The burned-out background images and the firefighters' sweating in 90-degree August heat made it all seem extremely realistic.
We made the front page of the paper again, and the TV showed images of muscular men holding fire tools in burned-out rooms. The first signing of the 2007 calendar was in mid-September. It was S.R.O. The crowd screamed, shoved, and grabbed calendars by the handful. They bought 300—at $10 each—in an hour. The children who go to Children's Burn Camp will be glad for the time they get to leave the hospital and have some fun. Our fund raiser gave six children week-long stays at the camp. It makes me proud to have worked with the firefighters to create images that raised thousands of dollars for these kids.
When these firefighters go to work, they know they may never come back. My photo sessions, prints, and computer time were my way of saying, "Thank you. We know you're out there for us day and night, and we appreciate you."