We are constantly inspired by our members’ personal projects. From work documenting climate change in remote locations to remarkable editorial spreads, we admit it can be hard to keep up.
One touching story recently came to us from Stacy Bass, who might be best known for her images of lush green gardens and commercial shoots of beautiful interiors in architecture magazines. But behind the scenes, Stacy was dealing with something decidedly more difficult: her mother’s life-altering pancreatic cancer diagnosis in January of 2018.
In an effort to come to terms with the diagnosis, Stacy embarked on an exploration of her mom’s life and created a sort of “living portrait” online through the power of social media. She compiled photos, old and new, and composed captions to post to Facebook as a way to share memories, to build a community of support around her mom, and to make sense of what was happening through the medium she knows best: photography. Each day, her mom looked forward to seeing the posts and engaging with the comments and questions.
The goal was for the posts to last a year. Stacy writes, “I spent a fair amount of time daydreaming that when she reached that milestone one-year mark, I would make a book of the accumulated posts. It would be a gift for her, a small but beautiful treasure, to have and to hold. I thought that, together, we could celebrate the victory of both the medicine and memories and marvel at the extraordinary community that blossomed around her. That part was not to be.
This story, like far too many stories of cancer, did not have a happy ending. And though most days still, this plain fact is unbearably and heartbreakingly sad, I nonetheless still found myself wanting or needing to make that book; and to find a way to redirect the gift that was intended for my mom to others who are still fighting, and who could still prevail. And so, this book, in honor and in memory of my extraordinary mom, Jessica Friedman Waldman, is now a mission and one that I believe is a critical one: to help fund groundbreaking, life-changing research to defeat cancer, and in particular the pancreatic cancer that took her from us.”
I was moved by Stacy’s experience and conviction to move forward with the book (which she’d sent along to me to review), so I reached out to learn more about the process of putting it together.
This started as a social media project that you intended to turn into a book gifted to your mother. Unfortunately, due to her death, that wasn’t possible but you made the decision to forge ahead. Is there something different about how the book was composed knowing it needed to be for a larger audience?
I haven’t at all altered the book for this purpose, and since the original audience on Facebook was arguably larger, I stayed true to the original posts. I have, however, redesigned the layout and format for the book version (vs. how it appeared on my timeline or in someone’s news feed). And I hired an outstanding graphic designer, Amanda Bowers Wong, to help execute my vision.
Can you walk us through how you’re selling and distributing the book? How does your PhotoShelter account come into play with that?
The hardcover books are available for sale on Blurb. I chose Blurb because of the quality of the printing and the product but also because I needed an on-demand option to make it easy for people to order single copies and to reduce the need to invest in bulk inventory, etc. I have had two other “for profit” photography books in the market (In the Garden and Gardens at First Light), distributed through traditional publishing channels, but because this is a fundraising mission, primarily, I wanted to try to find a way to share a free electronic version of the book in exchange for charitable contributions. Blurb’s interface would not allow for the sharing of the e-book without a fee, so I needed to find a way to reliably share with each donor and others. My PhotoShelter account was the perfect tool for this. I was able to upload multiple resolution PDFs and share the link with a password. It has worked wonderfully well and I don’t need to charge a fee, nominal or otherwise.
What are three pieces of advice you’d give other photographers looking to start and execute their own personal project?
My best advice:
1. Stick to your vision.
2. Be true to the project — first and foremost — and try not to worry too much about the audience.
3. Just GO DO IT.
I realize we all don’t always have the luxury of not having to consider the audience or how to monetize our efforts but in this case, and because sharing the book was intended to encourage a charitable contribution, I set a goal to finish and distribute the book in time for Mother’s Day 2019. It was the perfect time to share it more broadly.
Is there one photo of your mom, in particular, that means a lot to you? What’s the story behind it?
Right now, with things as raw as they are, each of the photos is truly a treasure to me. But, if I had to choose one, it’s this one:
I shared this image on March 29th, 2018 — which was my mom’s 74th birthday. I love it because it reminds me of her life outside of being my mother — and helped me see and understand her as this incredible, surprisingly bold, playful, quietly confident and spectacular woman. And it made me both very proud and even a little jealous.
In the intro to the book, you refer to this collection of images as a living tribute to your mom. Has the experience of sharing these images on Facebook and seeing the comments changed how you view social media?
It absolutely has. I think I’ve always been someone who saw the good in social media — despite the naysayers — and that there was a real benefit to being able to connect and communicate with people that you could otherwise not engage within your everyday life — either because of sheer proximity or time or other constraints. I’ve learned over the years that people appreciate when you share things on social media that aren’t just about happy milestones, or even “humble brags” — though we all succumb to that sometimes and it has a real place, as well. By allowing myself to express and share both the vulnerability and pain of the situation I was in, it allowed people to not just relate, but to engage and empathize. I am still astounded by not just the sheer volume of engagement in support of my mom, but the quality and intensity of it, too. People became passionate about my mission and that actually spilled over into her and my non-digital life. It was fortifying in a way neither of us imagined it could be.
I am so grateful that the (perhaps unintended) side effect of my efforts to support my mom was that many people felt moved to re-think and re-cast their own relationships; to be more communicative with their parents or spouses and loved ones. The project inspired others to consider taking on something similar in their own lives.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Any and all donations are welcome and donors of $75 or more to the I love you, Mom initiative will receive an e-book version of the book as an acknowledgment of their contribution to this worthy cause and in gratitude for their kindness and support of my project and my mom. Print copies will be available on demand, too. The first ones have just arrived, and they are quite beautiful. I so hope it can make a meaningful difference. You can read and see more here.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.