About the Project:
On the eve of the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Texas law restricting abortion access, MSNBC published Shuttered, a special long-form interactive report about the severely limited abortion access in Red America. Roe v. Wade — the 1973 Supreme Court opinion legalizing abortion — started in Texas. Now, with 288 restrictions put in place since 2010, Texas was leading the fight to end legal abortion access in the United States. Told from multiple perspectives; a pro-choice activist, a doctor, a patient, a clinic owner, a woman who remembers her past abortion, a pro-life politician, a pro-life activist and a pro-choice political candidate speak intimately about the issues and what was (and continues to be) at stake for millions of women across the country. The Supreme Court ultimately reaffirmed and strengthened constitutional protections for a woman’s right to have an abortion, striking down the restrictive laws.
Given the sensitive nature of the story, I needed to hire a photographer who could comfortably navigate the assignment with delicacy and care. Irin Carmon, the writer/reporter took great pains in constructing the narrative from multiple perspectives and political positions interviewing men and women who held divergent views. It was important that we approached this project, and each of the characters, with respect and dignity and from a non-judgmental place. There were considerable restrictions on who could be photographed and how. Couple this with characters that were scattered all over the southern states, the photographer needed to travel through Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana to shoot portraits of each of them ending in Texas where we switched from portraiture to reportage for a photo essay on our central protagonist, Dr. Kumar.
I knew that I wanted to go with a very different aesthetic approach to how abortion stories are typically portrayed in the media. So, I commissioned Jody Rogac, a portrait photographer who works primarily in fashion (and usually in a controlled studio setting) to shoot both the formal portraiture as well as a sidebar photo essay. The two parts of the assignment needed to be aesthetically different (color, medium format portraits coupled with a black + white 35mm reportage photo essay) but also needed to live side-by-side in tandem in the layout maintaining a symbiosis, or visual flow of storytelling throughout the piece. We coupled the portraits with audio clips from interviews with Irin.
For the photo essay sidebar, I referenced W. Eugene Smith's seminal photo essay 'Country Doctor' published in Life Magazine in 1948 which follows a doctor as he travels the Colorado countryside to see his patients. Our story’s protagonist Dr. Kumar, the young doctor who also travels hundreds of miles every week is a modern-day country doctor providing services to women who would otherwise be without a doctor’s care.
Photographs by Jody Rogac
Written + Reported by Irin Carmon
Designed by Mina Liu
Economic Hardship Reporting Project