visual storyteller, photojournalist, stills, video, drone

Ian’s Peace

Footage: Travis Long, Ethan Hyman
Interviews: Juli Leonard
Stills: Takaaki Iwabu, Juli Leonard,
Editing: Travis Long
Night projections: Travis Long, Rob Roberts
Music: “QKThr” Aphex Twin, licensed by Chrysalis

On June 23, 2007, News & Observer photojournalists Travis Long, Takaaki Iwabu, Ethan Hyman, and Juli Leonard visited the Eno Quarry in Durham to shoot video and still images for an in-house project on the quarry. The group had envisioned a light piece on swimming hole culture.

A few weeks later, they were contacted by the family of 18-year-old Ian Creath who had drowned in the quarry July 9, 2007. The family sought the last known video and photographs of him.
In the process of gathering photographs and video of Ian the group got to know his mother, Shawn Bailey. Her strong spirit and thoughtful remembrance of her son inspired this project.

When the N&O started its push towards video in June of 2007 our then director of multimedia, Robert Miller, broke the staff into five teams. We were to go make a video and the only rule was that the video had to involve water. Our team (Takaaki Iwabu, Ethan Hyman, Juli Leonard and myself) chose to pursue a video on the Eno Quarry swimming hole in Durham.

We lugged a boat-load of gear a mile into the woods and spent the whole day immersed in multimedia bliss. A few weeks after our visit, 18-year-old Ian Creath tragically drowned at the quarry. Ian’s mother, Shawn Bailey, mentioned to the reporter who wrote the news story that Ian’s brother, Lance, remembered seeing N&O photographers at the quarry a few weeks prior to Ian’s death. I went through two hours of tape and didn’t find any footage of him because we didn’t interview Ian. I had no context.

About a month later, I was learning Final Cut Pro while using the quarry video as source material for practice. I was in the studio capturing video when I heard someone off camera call out Ian’s name. I logged on myspace and found Ian’s profile and was able to determine that we indeed had video of him. Takaaki went through all his photos from the day and found photographs of him as well.

Juli and I went to Ian’s home to give his mother, Shawn, the raw video and prints. We talked with her for more than an hour She said when she visited the quarry she could not be sad and that it was a peaceful place that was special to Ian. We were struck by Shawn’s candor and thoughtful remembrance of her son.

We pitched a story. Then we followed up with a formal audio interview and two more visits to the quarry (one visit with Shawn and another with a gasoline generator to do some night projections with our original footage of Ian).
We were able to get veteran writer Martha Quillin onboard and the story was slated as a Sunday features display.

In the end, we came out with a 50 inch feature story, some nicely displayed photos and the video online.
It truly was a collaborative effort that developed over weeks and weeks. Ethan’s original footage of Ian, Takaaki and Juli’s still photographs, Juli’s thoughtful audio interview and a solid week worth of video editing resulted in a piece I’m pretty darn proud to be associated with.

Perhaps the most rewarding part of this whole project was this letter to the editor from Shawn:

Dear Editor,

I commend your staff for the wonderful job on “Ian’s Peace.” Martha Quillin, Travis Long, and Juli Leonard were spectacular during the process of creating the tribute to my son. Not only was the project of highest quality, but they truly “entered in” –as much concerned for my personal journey of grief as they were interested in procuring a story.

The article and video are treasured gifts, but equally cherished will be the memory of these three compassionate people who have been an integral facet to my healing. When they accompanied me to the quarry, they just let me be what I needed to be—let the words come, but also allowed the silence. It felt like a sacred time.

I realize there were others who invested in the birth of this gift to my family and me. I sincerely offer my gratitude to those individuals as well.

Some aspects of humanity disenchanted Ian. Yet, there are so many stories of how he used this frustration as a catalyst to make a difference. In his laid back, brilliant way, he pointed us to a better moment, or simply made us smile. May we all be so deliberately invested.

Update – April 9, 2008: “Ian’s” Peace” named as official honoree for Documentary Individual Episode in the 12th Annual Webby Awards.

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