The Digital Journalist
Standing Up for Terri

by Timothy Fadek

Terri Schiavo lay starving to death inside the Woodside Hospice in Pinellas Park, Florida.

Polly St. Raphael, 45, of St. Petersburg, Florida, a devout Roman Catholic, holding up the famous photograph from 2001 of Terri Schiavo and her mother Mary.

Timothy Fadek/Polaris
As the days went by, I grew weary of the routine press conferences, the multitude of talking heads, and the paparazzi-like ambush techniques to make pictures of the Schindler family as they entered and left the hospice. As well meaning as the supporters were, holding up signs, shouting out their views to TV cameras and holding candlelight vigils at dusk, they too had a numbing effect on me.

I decided to photograph a portrait series of the major players. I wanted to take them out of the emotionally charged environment of TV cameras and the hospice, and let them show, for better or worse, who they are and how they support Terri.

"Hi, my name is Tim, I'm a photographer from New York, with Polaris Images. I'm shooting portraits of Terri's supporters." Then, asking the obvious, "What brought you here to the hospice?" That's usually how I approached each person and made my introduction. We would talk for a few minutes; I asked for basic information -- their name, where they were from, how old they were. They were always very friendly and willing to talk.

Mary Herlihy (left) of West Virginia and Caroline Syversen (right) of New York.

Timothy Fadek/Polaris

"Let's go over to my studio," I joked. "Right over there," pointing to the yellow painted cinder block wall across the street from the hospice. A few appeared worried, "Are you sure it's ok, I won't get arrested, will I? " After reassuring them that it was fine and that we could go wherever we liked, they accompanied me across the street.

Usually the act of photographing my subjects lasted only five or ten minutes. We spent much more time discussing the details of Terri's case, exchanging addresses and phone numbers. Many asked if it would be possible to send them a picture. For those who had email, I sent jpeg attachments. For the others without email, I mailed ink-jet prints made from my Epson printer.

Robert Haisten of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Timothy Fadek/Polaris
Everyone I photographed expressed an unexpected measure of gratitude that I took his or her picture. They all said that they loved Terri so much and they were fighting for her. Some of the more religious supporters went so far as to bless me personally. One man in particular, Reverend Warren, said to me, “You are her voice,” after I photographed him with his son. That sentiment, echoed by many others, surprised me, as it seemed improbable that I would be viewed like that.

I had no ambition to be the voice of Terri Schiavo. I was only doing portraits of her supporters -- the “voice” of the individuals behind the cause. My ambition was to photograph real people, against a stark wall, letting each one express who they were and how they felt at that moment.

Terri Schiavo died on Thursday, March 31, 13 days after her feeding tube was removed. She was 41.

© Timothy Fadek

Timothy Fadek is an independent photojournalist based in New York City. He holds a Bachelor's Degree in Marketing. For more than 6 years, he worked as an Account Executive in advertising agencies in the U.S. and Germany, before diverting his attention full time to photography. His photographs and stories have been widely published in magazines such as Time, Newsweek, US News & World Report, German Geo, The New York Times Magazine, Paris Match, Le Monde, Le Figaro, Der Spiegel and Stern. His photographs have earned him industry awards. Most recently American Photography and NPPA's Best of Photojournalism competition recognized him for his work on the uprising in Haiti.

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