from nothing to something

Although I don’t conceive or write feature stories for American, I am privy to their origins. I sit in the editorial meetings listening to the editor and writers talk about story ideas. Sometimes while I listen I feel panicked and think, “How am I going to illustrate that? I’m doomed!” But other times, images pop into my head immediately and I want to get started right then and there—not knowing if the story is even going to pan out.

new-american-shootThe story “Swearing In” was just one of those “I got it!” moments when writer Mike Unger first pitched the story eight months ago. I immediately envisioned a hallway wall with ornately framed black and white portraits, under thick glass hung on large patterned, flowery wallpaper of an immigrant family’s early- or mid-twentieth century home. As Mike was talking I began imagining. I had already moved on—thinking about the logistics of collecting frames, where to get vintage wallpaper, and how to photograph the subjects (not even identified yet!).

Luckily Mike’s story became a reality so I could realize my vision. And unlike some stories there was plenty of time to find frames and neat wallpaper (Etsy’s Hannah’s Treasures had just what we needed) and take the pictures of the new (and not so new) citizens Mike interviewed.

Now it was time for the fun part! I enjoy the challenges that often come with my “big ideas.” How was I going to wallpaper and on what? How was I going to organize and hang the frames? With the help of our photographer, Jeff Watts, I decided to use the studio floor. Even after a week of being under weights the wallpaper wouldn’t unfurl. It was tough lining up the flourishes without the wallpaper rolling back over on me. Once secured, I was able to move the frames around (no holes!) and adjust accordingly so all would fit correctly in the final layout.D14_242_031When I look at the final image in the magazine I remember the wonderful subjects I got to meet, their willingness to stand in front of a huge American flag, put their hands over their hearts, and smile. It was an honor to put their portraits in frames, “hang” them on the floor, and make them part of the American family.

Check out “Swearing In” in the new issue of American magazine.