Ex­hibit fo­cuses on emer­gency re­spon­ders

The Colonial - - FRONT PAGE - By M. English

21st Cen­tury Me­dia News Ser­vice

The Pulitzer Prize-win­ning pho­tos on dis­play at Philadel­phia’s Na­tional Con­sti­tu­tion Center through Dec. 31 are com­pelling re­minders of photography’s emo­tional mus­cle.

The dig­i­tal ho­mage to lo­cal emer­gency re­spon­ders re­cently mounted at Greater Ply­mouth Com­mu­nity Center sim­i­larly high­lights the in­cal­cuODEOH VHUYLFH UHnGHUHG Ey ORFDO fiUVW UHspon­ders. The ex­hibit — “911: What is your Emer­gency” — is the work of Ply­mouth Meet­ing’s Emily Thomas and de­buted with the ded­i­ca­tion of Ply­mouth Town­ship’s new Ser­vice and De­vo­tion Mon­u­ment Nov. 9.

Thomas’s 20-por­trait se­ries — com­posed of dra­matic 16-by-24-inch color prints — be­gan as the photography ma­jor’s se­nior the­sis at Cazen­ovia Col­lege in up­state New York. But ac­cord­ing to the May 2013 Cazen­ovia grad, her pho­to­graphic “es­say” is rooted a lot closer to home.

“My brother, my dad and my­self all be­long to Ply­mouth Fire Com­pany,” Thomas says. “My brother is D OLHuWHnDnW DnG fiUH­fiJKWHU; Py GDG is a lieu­tenant and trea­surer with the fiUH SROLFH; DnG , GR fiUH SKRWRJUDSKy … and be­long to Ply­mouth’s web­site com­mit­tee.

“The pho­tos in the [dis­play] en­com­pass the men and women of the PlymRuWK DnG HDUPRnYLOOH fiUH FRPSDnLHV, Ply­mouth Am­bu­lance and the Ply­mouth Po­lice Depart­ment, but my fam­ily’s in­volve­ment at Ply­mouth [Fire CRPSDny@ DnG WKH GRPLnDnFH RI fiUH and dif­fer­ent emer­gency sce­nar­ios for as long as I can re­mem­ber is where it all started.

“I’d been tak­ing pic­tures of all this, but [typ­i­cally] with­out any faces. With my the­sis project, I de­cided it was time to put faces to the im­ages. So I de­cided to do portraits of th­ese peo­ple in their ev­ery­day ac­tiv­i­ties to bring a point to the fact that al­though peo­ple think of them as he­roes, they’re hu­mans. In­di­vid­u­als. That was my goal — to hu­man­ize th­ese men and women who serve all of us so bril­liantly with WKHLU TuLFN DnG VHOflHVV DFWLRnV Rn RuU be­half.”

Thomas rea­soned “hav­ing ac­tual sto­ries to go with the im­ages would make them even more pow­er­ful.”

“So, I asked each per­son [to] write some­thing about their worst day on the job … to cor­re­late with the im­ages,” she con­tin­ues. “My idea was, I wanted any­one who looked at th­ese photographs to get a feel for what th­ese peo­ple go through. Th­ese peo­ple are bled on and vom­ited on and go through so much. But I don’t think most peo­ple ac­tu­ally think about what hap­pens while they’re out there … how much of them­selves they give, over and over again.”

Thomas lim­ited her sub­jects to vet­eran re­spon­ders.

“I wanted men and women with DW OHDVW fiYH WR VHYHn yHDUV RI H[SHULence,” she says. “I didn’t want any rook­ies … any fresh eyes. And I also needed peo­ple who were will­ing to tell their sto­ries. But once I started, the whole thing took on a life of its own. And as I started to make con­tacts, it be­came like a se­ries of in­side doors … doors within doors …t hat led to one another.”

In a bit­ter­sweet twist, the Thomas com­pi­la­tion in­cludes an in­for­mal SKRWR RI VODLn 3OyPRuWK SROLFH 2IfiFHU Brad Fox, taken mere months be­fore his death and paired with Ply­mouth po­lice Chief Joseph Lawrence’s re­flHFWLRnV DERuW WKH ODWH RI­fiFHU’V ODVW day on the job.

“[I] was hop­ing the next time I was able to come home from school, I would be able to pho­to­graph him in the same light­ing as ev­ery­one else,” Thomas re­calls. “Un­for­tu­nately, that did not hap­pen … so sad and ironic when you think about the way th­ese es­says re­volve around loss and death and hard­ship.”

That said, she adds, her main fo­cus

“is on all of th­ese men and women …”

“We shouldn’t need some­thing tragic to hap­pen for us to re­al­ize how for­tu­nate we are to have such well-trained men and women there for us ev­ery sin­gle mo­ment,” Thomas notes in her the­sis state­ment. “Our first re­spon­ders coura­geously drive into unique sit­u­a­tions ev­ery day to help peo­ple in any imag­in­able con­di­tion. Their fast and bril­liant de­ci­sions help save our fam­i­lies and pro­tect our homes.”

Thomas, 22, has been tak­ing pho­tos since she re­ceived “a very ba­sic” cam­era as a gift when she was 10.

“I fell in love with it,” she re­mem­bers and cred­its mom Karen with her ear­li­est cre­ative sense.

“My mother went to Tex­tile, which is now Philadel­phia Univer­sity, and ma­jored in tex­tile de­sign,” she ex­plains. “When I was lit­tle, I used to go into her sew­ing room … and look at the dif­fer­ent color com­bi­na­tions in the fab­rics she was us­ing. , EHOLHvH WKRVH Ln­fluHnFHV SODyHd D UROH Ln how I choose the key color to em­pha­size in my work.”

Thomas shot pic­tures through her years at Philadel­phia’s Lit­tle Flower High School, com­pleted in­tern­ships at WPVITV and for a wed­ding pho­tog­ra­pher dur­ing col­lege and has since con­trib­uted work to a num­ber of Ply­mouth Town­ship news­let­ters. As a coach for the soc­cer team at her ele­men­tary school alma mater, Ply­mouth Meet­ing’s for­mer Epiphany of Our Lord now Holy Rosary Re­gional Catholic School, Thomas has also been known to take a sports-re­lated pic­ture or two. She is cur­rently photo ed­i­tor at Cigars In­ter­na­tional in Beth­le­hem.

HHU IHHOLnJV DV VKH VuUvHyV KHU fiUVW post-col­lege ex­hibit?

“Relief,” she laughs.

This pho­to­graph of Lt. An­drew Thomas of the Ply­mouth Fire Com­pany by Emily Thomas is on dis­play as part of the “911: What is Your Emer­gency” ex­hibit at Greater Ply­mouth Com­mu­nity Center.

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