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Creative Director: Blake Taylor
Photography Director: Travis Ruse
Deputy Art Directors: Sarah Garcea, Jason Mischka
Deputy Photo Editor: Heidi Hoffman
Photographer: Robert X. Fogerty
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Heidi: You said this idea came about at a party, what was the context? Was this after Hurricane Katrina?
Robert: A few friends and I started a hurricane preparedness non-profit called evacuteer.org and our “most epic isn’t this awesome idea” was to throw a fundraiser to celebrate the end of hurricane season. That event–the Bye Bye Hurricane season party–is where we first did the “Love notes to New Orleans” portraits.
How did you come up with the name and did you ever imagine this turning into a movement?
New Orleans is an incredibly joyful place, where people know what it’s like to really really love something and then nearly have it taken away. I’ve been a bystander in this as I moved to New Orleans post-Hurricane to do an AmeriCorps year. I’ve never experienced a place where they treat their hometown like it’s a family member. So the first iteration of this was called Dear New Orleans, but I realized that the every one has a story and that we could scale into Dear World, with this city–our city–serving as the genesis and foundation.
How many portraits have you done with this theme and how has it turned into a business?
Thousands. I began shooting for dollars in a bucket. Literally, like pass the hat, dollars-in-a-bucket. And then, it’s just been a series of fortunate events, working with recognizable people and big brands as well as causes that matter. So the business side is high social value. I pitch brands and conferences on photographing their members and they pay me for that, but not so much as a photographer but to tell the stories of so many of the amazing people I’ve met along the way. What’s crazy about that is when those people sit, then they’re a part of the collection and some of those people I meet end up being a part of the larger story in a bigger way. Just last week, I was at a company, and one of the employees brought her 89 year old grandfather–a WWII Veteran, Purple Heart winner and former prisoner of war.
Tell me about one of the most remarkable messages / portraits.
Without a doubt, “Cancer Free.” His name is Ralph Serpas and the woman opening his shirt and exposing his throat is his wife, Rebecca. Ralph’s physician had just notified him that after three years, that his esophageal cancer was in remission. This was back when I was shooting for tips and was at a fundraiser for an event. It wasn’t a Cancer awareness event. Towards the end of the night, they tapped me on the shoulder and asked me if they could do something more personal. Ralph is crying in the portrait and it was one of the moments that I knew that I was incredibly lucky to be a part of something. And I’m glad I didn’t mess it up.
What do you think people “see” first the words or the portrait or is it simultaneous?
Good question. What did you think first?