I have a great love of photographing artists at work, if only to observe their process, which is invariably unique. So when I received an assignment to photograph Emile Birch, who is one of New Hampshire's preeminent sculptors, I was grateful for the opportunity. His public monuments and work in schools had earned him a feature in New Hampshire Magazine exactly six years prior; this time, however, the circumstances were different. Emile had begun suffering from dementia, and this article would confront that issue directly.
Editor Rick Broussard sent me an advance copy of writer Karen Jamrog's article to help me prepare. Rick, creative director Chip Allen, and I decided the photography would require two stages: first, him working in his home studio; second, a portrait at one of his public sculptures. I would coordinate with his wife, Cynthia, whom he relies upon for appointments, transportation, et al.
The studio visit was scheduled first. I traveled west early on a Saturday morning, enjoyed brief introductions and a tour, and watched as he touched up some paint on a few of his new wooden pieces. (He's now limited to small-scale productions, which fill his studio.)
Although I knew another session for the portrait would occur, when I saw Emile step into the doorway to his studio towards the end of my time there, I couldn't help but ask him to pause while I made a series of photographs. As it happens, the magazine chose this portrait as the opening photograph (rather than the location one, as initially planned).
For the location portrait, we decided to use a lesser known work of his but one on prominent display in the capitol: The Eternal Shield, which was commissioned to memorialize the state's fallen firefighters. We met there a few weeks later around dusk to make the portraits. We lingered a bit (and enjoyed a coffee in a local shop) to allow darkness to fall in hopes that the statue's installed lighting (in the "flame") would illuminate; when that didn't happen, we said our goodbyes.
Karen's article about Emile, his legacy, and his current condition are well worth reading. I'm honored and grateful to illustrate a very small part of his life and work.