Common Ground -Scott Strazzante- Mediastorm


From Scott Strazzante:
Common Ground“, my collaboration with MediaStorm, is the latest and, I believe, the best incarnation of my personal project on cattle farmers Harlow and Jean Cagwin. The project had always been a still photography only endeavor and it wasn’t until I started working with MediaStorm did I incorporate interviews and video. The first years of shooting from 1994 to 1998 were for my personal photographic sanity. A place to go to make real photos when I got discouraged by the quality of assignments that I was being given at the Daily Southtown, a suburban Chicago daily that I worked at between 1987 and 1998. In 1999, after moving to the Herald News in Joliet, Illinois, I pitched the Cagwin story to my editors for publication in the newspaper.
Images were eventually published on two separate occasions during my stay at the Herald News. A version of the story was also part of my 2000 National Newspaper Photographer of the Year portfolio. By the time I had left Joliet in October 2001, the Cagwin story had gone from a feature on two senior citizen cattle farmers to one of deteriorating health, the family farm as a disappearing way of life and suburban sprawl. While working on the Cagwin story in Joliet, I had received permission to retain the copyright on the farm images. Upon arriving at the Chicago Tribune in 2001, I made the same request and it was honored. On July 2, 2002, I photographed the Cagwins as they watched their farmhouse being razed to make room for the Willow Walk subdivision. That day would mark the end of the story. Well, at least that is what I thought at the time. In the subsequent years, I thought from time to time about going back to the land to find a suburban family to document as a bookend to the Cagwin story.
Twice I made half-hearted attempts at finding a new family but the story never seemed to get off the ground. In March 2007, I gave a presentation of my farm story to a group of photo essay students at the College of DuPage. After showing my images, a student raised her hand and said, “I live in that subdivision.” By the next week I was at Amanda Grabenhofer’s home in the Willow Walk subdivision photographing her, her husband Ed and their 4 children. At that point, my only plan was to someday publish a book with chapter one being the Cagwins and chapter two being the Grabenhofers. On my third visit, I photographed Amanda’s son Ben wrestling with his cousin CJ with a jump rope tied around them. The photograph reminded me of a photo that I had made of Harlow Cagwin wrestling with a two-day old calf with a lasso tied around it.
The two photos got me thinking of life and the similarities between the farm and the subdivision that I had noticed in my few visits to the Grabenhofer home. After constructing the two “rope” photos into a diptych, I immediately was able to make three others. On my subsequent visits, I kept my mind open to similarities and differences as I documented life on Cinnamon Court, the cul de sac in the Willow Walk subdivision where the Grabenhofer home was located. In October 2007, I publicly presented my diptych essay for the first time while coaching at the Mountain Workshops in Kentucky. One of the people in the audience that day was Chad A. Stevens, a multimedia producer at MediaStorm. Stevens saw the multimedia possibilities in the project and he encouraged me to talk to his boss, Brian Storm, about a possible collaboration.
After a very short discussion, Storm and I agreed to give it a go. In the meantime, the Chicago Tribune published my diptych project in their Sunday Magazine and online under the title, “Another Country”. A month later, National Geographic featured the essay in the Photo Journal section of their February 2002 issue. In March 2008, I flew to New York City where Stevens, who Storm assigned to produce the project, and I went through every frame I had taken on the project.
I returned to Chicago and recruited Wes Pope, who at the time was my co-worker at the Chicago Tribune, to help me interview the Cagwins and the Grabenhofers and to shoot b-roll on life in the subdivision, In June 2008, after months of work, MediaStorm debuted a 6-minute piece at Look 3- The Festival of the Photograph in Charlottesville, Virginia. In July 2008, MediaStorm released a 7-minute version of “Common Ground on their website.
The entire multimedia piece was conceived and constructed by Stevens. He even located a musician named Andy Webster who provided a beautiful piece of original music as the score. I am very happy that the multimedia piece became reality. I always felt that I had missed a huge piece of the story by failing to interview the Cagwins as they were living thire final years on the farm. Most of all, I consider “Common Ground” an unbiased historical document on the issue of suburban sprawl overtaking the family farm in the shadow of America’s major metropolitan areas. The next and final step will be finding a publisher for the book.