Framing a mother's grief

Viewfinder

November 20, 2005|By CHRISTOPHER T. ASSAF | CHRISTOPHER T. ASSAF,SUN REPORTER

Four women, all so different, but all of them with one thing in common - their sons are dead.

The four men were killed while on duty in Iraq within four days of each other one year ago. This commonality created the foundation for a story by reporter Greg Barrett. I had one day, the Thursday before Veterans Day, to photograph them for a Sunday, Nov. 13 story.

For the four portraits I wanted to create a common visual theme, so I decided to light each of them with a single flash unit in a soft box. This would create a distinct look, yet allow me the flexibility needed to photograph in four different locations without knowing ahead of time the conditions for each.

After photographing the first three, I finished Thursday evening at the Silver Spring home of Lee Ann Doerflinger. She and her husband welcomed me into their home, and I could tell she was having a hard time. The next day would mark the one-year anniversary of Army Spc. Thomas K. Doerflinger's death in Mosul.

After setting the light and picking the composition, I had her sit on the couch of her living room. I started to photograph, talking to her between frames and giving light direction. Then I asked her to cradle the American flag that draped his casket. A few moments later she started to cry. My heart sank and I could barely speak.

Her husband handed her a tissue. Through the viewfinder I could see her trying to be strong, still posing despite the pain. I continued to photograph, slowly, trying to be sensitive.

Afterward I sat in my car, numb and drained, trying to make sense of it all.

chris.assaf@baltsun.com

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