This month we’re honored to partner with Erin Patrice O’Brien, a Brooklyn-based professional portrait photographer who has volunteered with us the past couple months documenting the stories of Red Cross volunteers and employees. Throughout her accomplished career, O’Brien has shot for People Magazine, Comedy Central and The Wall Street Journal, to name a few. For the rest of the month, O’Brien will be “taking over” our Instagram account, highlighting some of our inspiring staff as part of our #MyRedCrossLife series.
In January of 2017, I photographed 101-year-old Red Cross volunteer Blanche Baudin for AARP Magazine. I was moved by Blanche and her service and by the other volunteers at the Green Bay Wisconsin Red Cross Chapter, so I decided to volunteer as a photographer with the Red Cross in Greater New York. At first I went on a few “ride-alongs” to disaster responses throughout New York City to witness the work of the volunteers in the field. I was able to see the compassion and service they were able to give New Yorkers in a time of need, so I decided to focus on portraits of the volunteers. The volunteers are very special people. They give their time to take care of and serve people in need. I find that very admirable.
Who do you photograph? What kind of projects do you do?
For work I photograph portraits of different celebrities and personalities for various publications and advertisements.
Can you compare photographing celebrities with photographing volunteers?
Celebrities are used to having their pictures taken. They tend to have a styling team to make them look like stars. The volunteers I photographed are beautiful people who don’t need glamorous props. Their faces reflect compassion and integrity.
Have you volunteered with other organizations?
Yes, recently I have done some work for the Nordoff Robbins Music Therapy School and for Planned Parenthood.
What are you trying to capture when photographing volunteers? Do you have a process that you go through?
I am trying to capture their essence. When I photograph them, I ask them about their life stories. I want to know exactly why and how they came to the Red Cross. I learn life lessons from them.
What has surprised you most since you’ve started volunteering with the Red Cross?
What has surprised me is how kind everyone in the organization is. It’s like a big corporation but since most of the people are volunteering and want to be there giving their service, it is uplifting to be around the people.
What is the most rewarding part of volunteering?
The most rewarding part has been hearing the volunteers’ stories and seeing them in action. It’s rewarding to know that they are volunteering their time and treating people who are in challenging situations with dignity and respect and to hear someone say that have been doing this for 10-15 years and still see a smile on their face.
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