Sarah was the photographer Ellen Barry told me I should look for on October 10, the night of the slideshow and Survivor Speaks presentation at the Holocaust and Human Rights Center, as she was the person assigned to take my portrait for her New York Times article.
Sarah was younger than I expected, and I was surprised when she told me she had been shooting for that paper for more than 20 years. She was also more aloof than I expected, considering we are both photographers and that we both live in Maine. In our very brief small talk she did not ask about the project or say anything about it.
She photographed me. I liked the way, after an initial session in the waning outdoor light, when the evening's presentation was over she asked if I would step out into the dark for some more photos and posed me under the dramatic light of a streetlight. As a photographer, I too usually have my best ideas after the initial session.
The photos that appeared in the paper were sensitive and beautiful. I emailed the NYT photo editor asking to be able to buy some, and they said it was OK with them but to deal directly with Sarah.
The last time I dealt with a NYT photographer was when the newspaper covered my daughter's wedding in their Vows section (Ellen told me when research for her article on Finding Our Voices unearthed this 2013 feature that mothers-of-the-bride kill for this coverage). The photographer in that case was reluctant to even sell his photos to me because he was so busy, and if I remember correctly charged me a few hundred dollars for each.
Sarah emailed me back: "Sure." And she wrote that she would give them to Finding Our Voices as a gift.
After maybe two weeks, I checked in with her about them. She apologized profusely for the delay, saying that she was just off the road on assignment and heading right back out on another one, and also that she had been hit by a garbage truck. A few days later, she sent me the link with the high-res digital files of the nine photos I had requested, all toned, all mine to use as I wanted.
That is when I discovered that a GoFundMe site had been set up in Sarah's name. She is battling her third bout of brain cancer. Her medical bills are drowning her in debt and the garbage truck destroyed her car, so now she needs to travel on assignment around the country without a vehicle.
After I got in touch with her about this, she emailed me that covering the Finding Our Voices presentation was her first photography session after undergoing radiation. She agreed to take the assignment because photographing women speaking out about the domestic violence in their lives is the kind of work she wants to be doing these days.
So many lessons from this swirling in my mind. Do not take things personally. You never know what another person is going through. There are angels walking in our midst. Open your eyes to them.
Olivia speaking at the Finding Our Voices Survivor Speaks panel discussion at the Holocaust and Human Rights Center. On her left is Amber and on her right,
Mary Lou, and Eve | Photos by Sarah Rice for the New York Times