Spotlight on Brynn Anderson

TID:
 
Brynn, this is a very nice image. Please tell us a little of the backstory.
 
BRYNN:
 
Thank you so much! Also, thank you for letting me be a part of this, it’s such an honor.  
 
This image is of Bobbie Jones on the first walk through after a fire destroyed her family's rented home. I shot this image while on an internship in Lincoln, Nebraska at the Lincoln Journal Star.  A day earlier, I had seen Bobbie and members of her family sitting on the sidewalk watching their home burn. I respectfully approached to gather caption information and ended up talking with Bobbie about herself, the fire, the home and her family. She told me that 11 children, herself, her husband and her sister-in-law had been living in this three-story house and had no idea where they were going to go. She told me all of their family members were in St. Louis. I ended up following Bobbie and her family for two months as they went through the journey of trying to pull their lives back together after the fire.  
 
 
TID:
 
Since this image is part of a larger story, can you tell us more about the story and how you gained access?
 
BRYNN:
 
I approached the family and had a conversation with them. I can’t imagine how they were feeling as they watched flames fill their home, so I knew this would be a difficult task to just approach them and ask them to let me in their lives. I wanted to give them space to be together and also document what was happening.  The story is about a family that lost their home and the challenges they faced together.  
 
A very talented reporter, Zach Pluhacek, and I worked together on this story. After the fire, Zach and I talked and decided to wait until the next morning to ask the family about following them through the process of finding a home and the challenges they were facing. I contacted Bobbie the next day, and I was expecting her to say no and to leave her alone. But to my surprise, she was willing to let me be around. 
 
I was not sure what to expect or what we were was about to face, but I knew I wanted to tell her story. The day after the fire, I met Bobbie at a church where she was getting clothing for her kids. She was on the phone and she couldn’t stop crying. She told her husband that they were going to be let into the house that afternoon to get some of the stuff that might have survived. Bobbie sat down in the pile of clothes and couldn’t hold back her tears. We went to the home that afternoon. Bobbie was extremely upset, but very nice to me.      
 
 
TID:
 
What challenges did you encounter while working to make this image/story?
 
BRYNN:
 
Working with a person who is in shock is always difficult because they are going through so much. The last thing on their mind is a person wanting to tell their story, which is completely understandable, so that was a challenge. I contacted her every morning and then went wherever she was going. 
 
In terms of the image, this was a very quick moment. I saw the light that was coming in through the doorway but the house was very dark. Bobbie walked in and instantly started crying. I heard her, and decided to stay in that spot behind her instead of getting in front of her and waited for her to turn around. When she turned I saw the tear and I shot two frames before she moved away. The unknown environment is always a challenge, especially when it is in an unstable, unsafe structure. 
 
TID:
 
How did you handle and overcome these problems?
 
BRYNN:
 
One personal challenge came as I photographed her as she walked through and collected what remained of her personal belongings. At one point she was sitting alone crying. At first I photographed her but then I put my camera down and put my hand on her shoulder for comfort.  After that moment I think she realized I wasn’t there for myself, I was there to tell her family’s story. I think she let me into her family’s life because she trusted me, I was there for that moment. But there were many moments when I was unsure when to document and when to put my camera down.
 
 
TID:
 
Now, onto the moment. Can you talk about the moments leading up to the picture?
 
BRYNN:
 
Since I knew earlier in the day that they were planning to go to the home, I tried to make a checklist in my head of things that might happen. It’s always good to prepare even if what you think will happen, never happens. In my case, this was not a moment I expected. Bobbie paused right outside the side door before she entered. I think she was trying to prepare herself. She just stood there after her husband, sister-in-law and 3-year-old son entered the house.  
 
I tried to anticipate what was about to happen. I made a quick decision to stay behind her instead of going in front. The light was challenging and I wanted to see if she would turn around into the light. At this point, only the day after the fire occurred, I wasn’t sure what the story was going to be, if it was going to be just a follow-up of the fire or if it would go further. The walk up to the house made me realize that this was going to be a very difficult time for this family, especially for Bobbie. 
 
I only was able to shoot a few frames before she moved away from the light coming from the door. I followed her though the house, and tried to photograph her husband as well. She walked through one time and said she couldn’t handle seeing her home that way. “Everything is destroyed,” she said as she made her way back through the side door to the porch. She sat in a chair on the porch and just cried. She stopped for a moment, then went back inside and gathered some photos that were still hanging in the hallway above the stairs.  
 
 
TID:
 
What surprised you about the shooting this body of work?
 
BRYNN:
 
The thing that surprised me most was how nice and welcoming the family was. After the story was complete, I felt like I became a part of their family. 
 
She asked me a lot of questions about myself and I was open and honest with her and I think I learned a lot about myself as a photographer and a human. The challenges I have faced in my life have not been the same as Bobbie’s, and I was surprised how honest, helpful, positive and supportive they all were of each other as a family. They were very inspirational to me as I watched them struggle in a hotel room for two months, all together in a very small space and still connected, respectful and kind to each other. I was very lucky to have met them, and frankly I wasn’t expecting to see such closeness and love after such a devastating event.  
 
 
 
TID:
 
What have you learned about yourself in the process of making images like this?
 
BRYNN:
 
I have learned that there is a story within everything -- every event, every person that you talk to -- and that’s the challenge. You must talk to people and listen to their story. I could have shot the fire and moved on, but because I was interested in what was happening, I stayed and talked to the family. Since then, I have tried to talk to people for more than caption information. Not everyone will be willing to tell their story, but you will never know until you ask. I have also learned that photographing as often as I can really prepares me for moments like these.  
 
TID:
 
In conclusion, what advice do you have for photographers?
 
BRYNN:
 
Keep shooting.  Robert Frank said in a quote on NPR once that has stuck with me, “Watching and taking pictures and going out the next day, same thing again, taking pictures, it doesn’t matter how many you take, it gets you prepared to know what you should take pictures of, what is the right thing to do and when.” This is true for me. I only got this photo because of luck, but I was prepared for that lucky moment.  
 
 
 
:::BIO:::
 
 
Anderson is currently an intern at the Palm Beach Post, and previously she interned at the Associated Press in Philadelphia, Pa. She is a recent graduate from Western Kentucky University in May 2012, and also won second in the William Randolph Hearst Award program.  Her work has been recognized by the Hearst Photojournalism Award program, College Photographer of the Year, Kentucky News Photographer Association and NPPA.
 
You can view more of her work here:
 
 
 
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