(Editor’s note: A look at the origins of signature Globe journalism.)
Photographer Craig Walker spent about five months, on and off, working with reporter Liz Kowalczyk on the latest installment in the Globe’s “Unhealthy Divide” series on inequality in health care. The two followed Marie Cajuste of Dorchester as she faced breast cancer along with the burdens of toiling at the vulnerable lower edges of the economy.
Metro Minute asked Walker about the challenges of following and photographing a subject over time. He came to the Globe in 2015 from The Denver Post, where he won the Pulitzer Prize for feature photography in 2010 and 2012.
Generally, what are your expectations and goals at the outset of a longer-term assignment like this?
The goal is to just have access to people’s lives. You have an issue that you think is important, and for the photographer you want to tell this story through candid moments, which means gaining the trust [of your subject]. With that comes access to this person’s life.
How do you gain trust?
It’s important to treat people the way you want to be treated. So be honest with them, treat them with respect, explain why this story is important. And hopefully, you find a person that understands that and agrees that it is important. Then the goal is have them forget you’re there. Everybody’s different, but I find that the more time you spend with somebody the more likely they’ll forget you’re there. Sometimes there’s a little bit of a courtship where you’re there to let them test the waters, to let them get used to you.
What is your strategy for photographing particularly tense moments, such as when Marie was receiving treatment at Boston Medical Center?
One of the hard parts in the hospital is making sure there are no other patients in the shots [to protect their privacy]. That’s the nuts and bolts stuff of the coverage. Then there’s the more emotional side of it. After gaining access to the hospital you also need to remember that you’re there with a woman who’s going through a really difficult time, and to be sensitive to that.
Some of the most compelling photographs of Cajuste show her in mundane settings at home, taking the bus to work, or shopping for groceries. Why is it important to capture such moments?
A lot of it is part of her story. She’s living in a boarding house because she lost her apartment because she had cancer and couldn’t afford her rent. Riding the bus to work takes her an hour and she needs to take four buses. After her cancer treatment, she still needs to go to work. Sometimes it’s just those little moments that can be very telling. I like the picture of her sitting on her bed in the rooming house because her bed was one of the very few possessions she was able to retrieve from her apartment.
One of the most dramatic points in the story was when Cajuste participated in a BMC fashion show to raise money for cancer patients. Tell me about photographing that.
I knew she would be a little nervous about it. So I got there early and spent a lot of time with her backstage and photographed her getting ready, getting her makeup done, and then the nervousness of just waiting for the fashion show to start. Ultimately, we used a picture of her actually on the catwalk, really gracefully walking down the catwalk, and just looking absolutely beautiful. That was really special because I know that she didn’t always feel beautiful throughout this time.
After the story runs, do you tend to stay in contact with the subjects?
I try to. I still keep in touch with people from years ago. Marie called to let me know that she was happy with everything [in the Globe story]. You still care about these people because you spent so much time with them.
See more photographs by Craig Walker:email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @roygreene