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Last night I watched the 1954 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and this is stuck in my head.

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Todd Danforth

Portrait Of A Family

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I sat on the hospital bed beside my grandfather and watched as he took his dying breaths. Aunt Beth walked into the room and quietly sat next to me. She glanced at her father for a moment and then back to me. “Life is funny, huh?” she said.

I looked at her and then back to my grandfather. His cheeks were no longer full and his body almost lifeless. A machine beside his recliner supplied oxygen to his lungs and I could not help but imagine myself at age seventy-­‐eight. Will I have his wrinkles too, I thought? His head full of white hair, not a bald spot to be found. And then I began to wonder about our non-­‐physical characteristics and the similarities my aunts and uncles share with my grandparents.I began to think about his memories and accomplishments and what value those hold now that he remains helpless. Who will continue this legacy he began? Who will tell his story after he goes, because afterall, we are the only ones who can.

These family portraits tell the photographic journey that I began in pursuit to understand the emotional struggles that bond my family together. After my Grandmother’s passing in 2004, my Grandfather became the patriarch of the family; but more importantly he was the aging bond that weaved my family’s legacy. As time has it, nothing lasts forever-­‐ his illness worsened, his memory faded, and as I ushered a final farewell to my last semester of college, my Grandfather took his final breath.

This portfolio was created over a four year period from 2009-­‐2013. The subjects of the work are my family and it is photographed in Massachusetts. Some photographs were taken in Florida on a road trip we brought my Grandfather on in 2011. Some of the photographs were featured in a German typography publication Slanted.

 

Bio

Todd Danforth grew up along the West River in the heart of the Blackstone River Valley, the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution.

He was born into quite a large family with an astounding family history. His lineage can be traced back toJudge Thomas Danforth, the Deputy Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony from 1679-­‐1686, who also sat on the Superior Court sessions during the Salem Witch Trials. Todd’s current photographic work focuses primarily on family and the ties that bond these close relationships together.

He currently resides on the South Shore of Boston, Massachusetts and holds his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography from The Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University.

 

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Todd Danforth

 

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Sixty years ago my grandfather, Joe Laub, urged his dear friend Lee Morrone to open up a summer camp. An overnight camp for children with special needs – a remarkable proposition at a time when people didn’t so much care for but deal with such children, often hiding them away in institutions. Camp Lee Mar would be different.  And throughout the years, I was told stories about just how different. Today, children come from all over the United States, Canada, Europe and the Middle East for seven weeks every summer in Lackawaxen, Pa. Lee, they say, is a miracle worker.

Finally, two years ago, I went with my parents to visit Lee at camp.  I knew of the history and Lee’s vision; I grew up hearing the uplifting camp stories. But to be honest, I was afraid. I expected sadness – how could you feel anything else witnessing all the limitations of disabled children struggling in a setting known for fun and frivolity?

I remember we arrived in the early evening and Lee escorted us to the dining room, where the children were having dinner. You’ve never seen such well-behaved, mannered children! Lee pointed out a child who came to camp having never eaten with utensils of any kind, and there he was, happily eating with fork and knife in hand. Lee walked by each table to say hello, checking in as the kids greeted her with bright smiles and loving eyes. “Don’t chew with your mouth open,” she’d say. “Sit up straight.” Nearly every child came to camp with a resume of what they couldn’t do. Lee would quickly recount this resume, remembering the list of “don’ts” and “can’ts.” Then, she’d invariably point the child out and say, with this boundless pride, and just a hint of indignation, “And now look at them!” Sure enough, they’d be doing what others said they’d never be able to do.

This wasn’t a place of sadness; there was love and acceptance everywhere. This wasn’t a place of humiliation; every camper had a story of extraordinary achievement. The only limitations, I learned, were the expectations I had brought with me. Lee’s biggest miracle was the camp itself. And with Ari Segal, her co-director of twenty years, and a staff of devoted counselors, she has inspired a new generation of professionals dedicated to people with special needs.  When I learned that this year Camp Lee Mar would be celebrating its 60th anniversary (as well as Lee’s 85th birthday), I knew I wanted to document it. It’s not often, after all, that you get a chance to be so close to so much miracle-making.

Gillian Laub is a photographer based in New York and a frequent contributor to TIME. See more of her work here

For more information on Camp Lee Mar, visit LeeMar.com.

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When the moon appeared on the horizon some people pulled out their cameras to record the beauty. I had hoped to use these people in my image as a silhouette. I hoped to put someone on the moon.

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