In this #intothedarkroom we look at the work of Renee C Byer. Here we briefly discuss her emotionally raw and outstanding Pulitzer winning project, A Mother’s Journey (2006).
The series charts the journey of Sacramento based, Cyndie French and her son Derek Madsen diagnosed with the rare childhood cancer neuroblastoma. This is documentary photo-journalism of the highest order. A visual essay that vibrates with a clear genuine empathy.
As the audience we are privy to the world of Cyndie French as she battles to be a single mum to Derek and her four other children. More significant is the battle for her son. Poignantly the battle against the disease is all but lost. The battle however to support Derek is constant.
Renee C Byer captures this battle and the gamut of emotionally charged moments in simple black and white images. Evidently this is not a project where we marvel at the magnificent technical abilities. No, this is Renee C Byer taking images to convey those personal emotional filled moments in this tragic journey.
In a telling image Derek is nearing the end of his battle-his eyes closed. The pain etched on Cyndie’s face is clear. She holds a bottle and draws the syringe for pain killers to ease his suffering. A range of antagonistic emotions are visibly boiling. The power of this image is undeniable. Further, it is clear-Renee C Byer has achieved a remarkable level of connection with Cyndie and Derek.
We interviewed Mary Turner another documentary photographer a little while back. She cited the ability to connect on an emotional level as integral to capturing intimate moments. Renee C Byer had in many ways become part of that family. Even Cyndie states, “I know Derek loved her [Renee C Byer]”.
A strange and difficult position. On one level being emotionally connected to Cyndie and Derek yet having to maintain a level of detachment and respect. Renee C Byer admits at times it did not feel right capturing these very private moments between Cyndie and Derek.
In this day of Instagram where there can be a focus on “beautiful images” a project like this reminds us of the true power of photography. Capturing moments where the emotional raw experience is as palpable as the visual experience.