Getting up close and personal



It is very satisfying to me as a photojournalist when the person I am photographing grants nearly complete access to her life. A bond has been made, and trust earned. This is the case with Aileen Mercado.

A 34-year-old sixth-grade teacher at Highlandtown Middle School, Mercado arrived in Baltimore in June, one of a large group of Filipino teachers recruited to fill vacancies in this city's public schools. We met in July when reporter Sara Neufeld and I started following her as part of a series of stories documenting her experiences.

With a little adjustment - she paid us too much attention at the beginning - Mercado has allowed us to drop in and out of her life.

Observing her almost effortlessly handle the challenges she faces, thousands of miles from her native land, husband and two children, has been an enormously rewarding experience, professionally and personally.

Her Filipino colleagues elected her their coordinator and she has been a vocal leader, helping them deal with problems and navigate the American cultural road. Along the way, she also helped me do my job, making me feel welcome in her classroom, explaining my role to her students and even displaying my photographs on her classroom wall.

Her attention to her special education students is undivided and personal.

This photograph of Mercado with student Steven Gelata reflects that intensity. It has a number of strong elements. Mercado clearly has Gelata's thoughtful attention. The light from the classroom window highlights her face, making the image more dramatic. The out-of-focus teacher in the background helps by adding depth and creating a triangle composition with Mercado and Gelata.

(Note: The photo was shot with a Nikon D2H camera and a 85mm f/1.8 lens. The exposure was 1/60th at f/3.2 with 800 ISO.)

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