Taking Focus

Reflection - Rory Doyle In His Own Words

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Words By : Rory Doyle

Earlier this month, I received an exciting phone call notifying me that I received the 2019 Taking Focus Grant. As you can imagine, I was immediately ecstatic!

As a freelance photographer in the rural Mississippi Delta, funding for project work is crucial. Grant assistance in remote America is so critical at this time, particularly when it seems like support for the arts continues to dwindle.

The funding will go a long way in helping me continue my ongoing documentary project on African American cowboys and cowgirls in the Mississippi Delta — a subculture that has long been overlooked.

I was extremely interested in applying to the grant when I read the main elements of Taking Focus’s mission — to present stories that will impact communities; to build a better understanding of social and human rights issues; and to educate and advocate for those who do not have an equal platform to voice themselves.

The main feature of the grant that peaked my interest was the “giving back” component, where a portion of the funding will be given directly to cowboys and cowgirls photographed in my project. I’ve been extremely fortunate to publish the work in a number of outlets and multiple exhibitions — and now, through the giving back component, the grant will allow the riders to receive a contribution and have a platform to share their stories.

In my proposal, I outlined an educational outreach program where the cowboys/cowgirls would visit local K-8 schools in my county. The riders will bring their horses and talk to students about black cowboy history and local riding history. Students will be tasked with the assignment to talk to their parents/guardians and research their family’s ties to cowboy culture. I’ll collect their findings, and thus have new contacts to photograph and interview for historical context.

As previously mentioned, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to share this body of work in a number of ways. The work was first shown at the Half King Photo Series in New York in June 2018, along with a concurrent show in Harlem. Washington Post then shared the project online, which led to more publicity from ABC News, Yahoo, PDN, The Guardian and more. The project was also supported with grants from the Mississippi Arts Commission, National Endowment for the Arts, and the Mississippi Humanities Council. Additionally, I received a first-place prize at the 2018 Eye Em awards in the journalism category.

The first full exhibit of the project was unveiled Feb. 19, 2019 in Cleveland, Mississippi (where I’m based) at the Delta Arts Alliance. Opening night for the exhibition was a career highlight for me, as the gallery was so crowded that people couldn’t fit in the building. Cowboys and cowgirls came out in large numbers and they were given the opportunity to speak about their passion. In addition, a lecture on black cowboy history was provided by a professor from the local university. The crowd was diverse, and I left with great pride seeing how the event brought the community together. It’s a night I’ll never forget.

Just a few days after opening night in Mississippi, my wife and I were extremely fortunate to travel to London and launch a separate exhibit at The Print Space Gallery on Feb. 28. It was another experience we will cherish — travelling across the pond to continue sharing these unique stories. Much like the first exhibit, the venue was packed and the crowd was diverse. Being able to share the work is a huge honor, but to see people overcoming some common racial barriers is even more rewarding.

My project will soon undergo a shift thanks to the giving back component. A greater purpose will shape, where the cowboys and cowgirls will have additional opportunities to benefit from the project. I have high aspirations that this will expand the work’s impact in the community, which is a prospect I don’t take lightly.

I’m incredibly grateful to those involved in the grant process who I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with, including judge Mike Davis (who holds the endowed Alexia Chair at Newhouse), Jennifer Kaczmarek (president of Taking Focus), and Jerry Englehart Jr.(stills director at Taking Focus). I am honored to be associated with all of you, and I’m looking forward to the next stages.

Faith & Salvation

Faith & Salvation

Roby Baird’s Journey

“I’m going through the toughest time of my life. My tumor is back, and it is cancer. This time I am going where God is leading me. Therefore, I am going to worry about nothing  and pray about everything. I know God will take care of me. God has a plan for me.” ~ Roby Baird 8/30/18

At home, in the back yard. An emotional moment of words spoken. Saint Augustine, FL, 8/30/18

I know many people that have a strong faith in God, but I must say Mr. Roby Baird is quite unique, someone special; his faith is definitely on a higher level. I think he would make a wonderful minister or youth leader. I know for some people that the talk of religion is uncomfortable. I’m also fully aware whether you are religious or non religious, or of a different belief system, that it doesn’t make you any more or any less of a good person.

As a person of faith myself, the way I see it is that anyone can go to church, or anyone can work in a church, but that doesn’t mean that they have full faith or deep understanding of what it is like to be a believer in Jesus. There are those that after the church doors swing closed,  “followers” go back out into the world picking up where they left off; being hypocritical, judgmental, uncompassionate, and lacking empathy for others. It’s called ‘Talk without action.’ I have seen it. So, please don’t be turned away by the talk of religion.

Religion is important to this story because this is Roby’s story. He wants to share his journey, and in Roby’s heart, his faith is as much a critical component to conquering his cancer, as is his choice in cancer treatment.

Tattoo, ‘By His Grace’, Saint Augustine, FL, 8/30/18

So, for anyone who is not religious, religious, or is of a different belief, I hope you will be inspired by the journey that Roby is about to take. Because this is not just a story about him battling brain cancer, it’s an inspirational story about his faith in a higher being. I believe we are all brothers and sisters, so my hope is you all will take this journey with him. Universal love and support is what he needs, as well as compassion and understanding for his choices in going through a holistic approach to heal himself.

In 2104 Roby had undergone surgery on the left side of his brain for a benign tumor that was the size of a walnut. ( original story here). In March of 2018, Roby began having those similar warnings that he was all too familiar with; he was having recurring headaches, dizzy spells, and feeling completely worn out. Roby went in for an MRI. The MRI showed a “blip” as he calls it, where the last tumor had been. The size of the newest “blip” measured 8 by 9 millimeters in size. The hope was that perhaps it was scar tissue.

But, in June the symptoms became more frequent, and he began having trouble getting out of bed without falling over.

On June 16th, Roby had another MRI, and it revealed the “blip” had grown, showing to be 14 by 15 millimeters in size. Another, more invasive MRI was performed. These results confirmed he now had a grade 3, malignant astrocytoma. Though the new astrocytoma is smaller in size than the one in 2014, (about the size of a piece of corn), it is cancer.

On August 1, 2018, Roby’s tumor was removed.

Roby’s physicians wanted to begin chemo and radiation immediately after, but Roby has opted out of that option. He has been researching the benefits of going the holistic approach for years, since the time his ex-wife had been diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma. It was then that Roby saw firsthand the medicinal, healing benefits the cannabis plant could have. With all that Roby has researched, with firm conviction, he feels confident in his decision, and believes strongly that God is with him every step of the way.

Roby arrived in California on September 6th to seek treatment at Green Bridge Medical in Santa Monica. When Roby decided that Green Bridge Medical is where he wanted to go, he began researching for a place to reside during his time there.  He decided that it was worth traveling up the coast to Redding, CA., to be near a church he has long wanted to attend; Bethal Church. The distance between Santa Monica and Redding is a long 10 hour drive, but being that medical marijuana is legal in the state of California, Roby is able to have his medication mailed to him. Being this is the most difficult time of his life, and so far away from his family and friends, he wants to be able to worship and spend his time building his relationship with God at a place he has long desired to be. He went on to say, “Happiness comes from circumstances and when you go through good times in your life you tend to be happy. But, when we go through trials and painful times in our lives, happiness is usually not there.  And, the beautiful aspect of having an intimate relationship with Jesus is that He brings joy.” Roby feels he has been lead to the right place at the right time.

Roby met with Dr. Allan Frankel on September, 7th for his consultation, and on Monday, September 9th, Roby began his first dose of treatment on Tuesday, September 18th at 6pm. He is on what is called the “Quad Regimen”, 5 mg of Delta 9 THC, 5mg of CBD, 5 mg THC - A, and 5mg of CBD -A.

Note: Roby is in California to receive full plant extract because it is not legal in the state of Florida.

I spoke to Roby today,  Roby feels the reason he has been having painful episodes such as headaches, gastrointestinal issues, muscle spasms that occur first in individual parts of the body, then spread out through his body creating whole body spasms. Roby believes this is because the cannabis is doing its work, and healing his body.

So, our story will continue, as Roby will  update us from time to time. I personally feel blessed to have Roby as a dear friend, and humbled that he is allowing me to share with you all this most important time in his life.

“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” Psalms 30:5, Roby recited.

I could feel those words. I could feel them for him, and I feel they are good, reassuring words for anyone going through trials and tribulations.

The sun will shine in the morning.

~ Jennifer Kaczmarek

Roby Baird, Saint Augustine, FL., 8/30/18

Helpers of Roby started a Go Fund me page to help him with his living expenses and treatment expenses until he is able to work again. If you would like to donate, you may do so here






News Journal Article

{All images on this post are the exclusive property of Jennifer Kaczmarek and are protected under the United States and International Copyright laws. The images may not be reproduced, copied, transmitted or manipulated without the written permission of Jennifer Kaczmarek. Use of any image as the basis for another photographic concept or illustration (digital, artist rendering or alike) is a violation of the United States and International Copyright laws. All images are copyrighted @2016 Jennifer Kaczmarek}

Recapping this week. If you missed the great feature in the News Journal please check it out! Thanks again to journalist Lacey McLaughlin for doing such a FANTASTIC job!

Click Here to see the full article online.

Click Here to see the full article online.

Miracles Do Happen

{All images on this post are the exclusive property of Jennifer Kaczmarek and are protected under the United States and International Copyright laws. The images may not be reproduced, copied, transmitted or manipulated without the written permission of Jennifer Kaczmarek. Use of any image as the basis for another photographic concept or illustration (digital, artist rendering or alike) is a violation of the United States and International Copyright laws. All images are copyrighted @2016 Jennifer Kaczmarek}

    Survived 14 months with no car, with 3 children

 Survived 14 months with no car, with 3 children

On the evening of February 18, 2013, I was just getting into my car when my cell phone rang with such astounding news. Elizabeth Coberg was on the line telling me that she had a car to donate to the Vanhoutte family. The news was so amazing and unexpected. The initial shock left me frozen,  I may have come across sounding ungrateful because I could not, at that moment, find the words to speak. The information was slowly registering .

The timing of her call was perfect, I was just heading over to the Vanhoutte’s to have cake with them to celebrate Tyler turning 15.  It was in his card that I delivered the news.

Mr. and Mrs. Fadi Coberg and their son Daniel attend the same church as I, Trinity Presbyterian. This is the family that changed the lives of the Vanhouttes with the donation of their vehicle.

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Myanmar Community Church Part One

I connected with the Myanmar, formally known as Burma, refugee community in San Diego last week. There is still the same gratitude and appreciation, but the most noticeable difference is the religious faith in the San Diego community is Christianity. It has been explained to me that the refugee community in San Diego is Christian because minority group’s population percentage is 70% Karen, 20% Chin, and 10% other ethnic minorities from Myanmar.

I can not wait to dig deeper into the community. Find their stories. And bring them to the surface because of the recent, positive political movements in Myanmar.

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Update, Behind the Scenes, & Thank You's!

Hi All, This post is to get everyone up to speed as to where we are at this time, and to give you a peek at some of the very important people involved in this project.

Also, I would like to take a moment to thank these people so much, and to thank everyone who has thus far opened their hearts, which includes our sponsors, individual donors, anonymous donors, and to those lending a helping hand.  It is exciting to see the wheels in motion and the light ahead.

We are grateful for the outcome of support that has followed since the launch of this project in March.   In late May, in a meeting with our lawyer Dennis Bayer we went over the necessary logistics in preparation to move forward.  Meaning soon we will be filing for our 501c3 status.

Following that meeting, we met at the Hollingsworth Gallery for a final decision on the count of images that will be in the exhibition.  The original plan was to have 15 images, but we have now added to that number, making it a total of 20.  There will be one more 30x40, and 4 images at 20x30. With these five added images, we now have a total of 6 images left to be sponsored for.  The cost to sponsor an image will remain at $200.

I would like to thank Piedmont Plastics whom from day one was on board with helping with this exhibition.  Their company, whose corporate location is in North Carolina, generously supports this project by fully sponsoring all of the glass needed for this exhibition.  A special thanks goes to Mr. Ted Isbell for making that happen.

One hand has crossed over another through this journey.  Thanks to JJ Graham, owner of the Hollingsworth Gallery, he directed me to speak with photographer A.J. Neste.  A.J. has no idea how grateful I am to him because he connected me to my missing link, my lawyer Dennis Bayer.  I couldn't proceed with this vision without this key person.  Thank you A.J.!

A.J. is not only an incredible surf photographer, but he also has a big heart. He is the director for the "Voice " program that is under the Florida EndowmentFoundation.  This is a program that not only teaches kids to photograph, but also helps them gain knowledge to the business aspects of the profession.

So, let me start by showing you who some very special/important people are...

dennis bayer
dennis bayer

image by Jerry Englehart Jr.

This is Dennis Bayer our lawyer.  We can't begin to thank him enough for believing in what we are doing.  He is an amazing person!  I wanted to share this wonderful article written in the Daytona News Journal  back in February about his dedication to our community.  Please check out the link!

dennis bayer's office - flagler beach, fl
dennis bayer's office - flagler beach, fl

(image I shot of Dennis's office that over looks Flagler Beach)

susan kates
susan kates

This is paralegal, Suasn Kates for the Law Office of Dennis Bayer.  I appreciate Susan so much.  She is a friend who has been so extremely helpful with everything, and a shoulder to lean on with my 1,000 questions.

j.j. grahm
j.j. grahm

J.J Graham

mercedez & gab
mercedez & gab

Mercedez & Gabriel

 Artist/ Painter, JJ Graham and life partner, photographer Mercedez Buzbee McCartney (shown above with their son Gabriel at my son's recent birthday party), are the owners of the Hollingsworth Gallery.  A friend had told me about the gallery, and upon my first visit I was floored by what they had created in our community.  It is a special place, one that does not exists in too many places.  I approached them immediately about my ideas, and I am thankful for their belief in me.  We quickly became great friends.

JJ's clear vision has succeeded by creating a place for contemporary artists to nurture their creativity.  One thing that I find most important, is having a community of peers that encourage one another and leave the silliness of competitiveness behind at the door.  When you are surrounded by other artists that feel the same that you do, it inspires you to challenge yourself in your own work.

No matter where you live, I encourage all artists of every medium to submit their work for review for exhibition at Hollingsworth.  The space is extraordinary, and they have expanded recently with the opening of their new gallery SECCA Tree Studios two doors down.  SECCA also includes artist studios for rental space, though I believe they are all reserved at this time.

In between these two galleries is a separate space for painters; those that are experienced artists and for those longing to learn.  Believe when I say, JJ is the person you would want to learn from!  Classes are available for adults and children.  There are  great summer classes available for children.  If you would like to inquire, see the link and call 386-871-9546.

jerry englehart
jerry englehart

This is my long time dear friend, and talented colleague, photographer Jerry Englehart Jr.  Jerry at this time attends Western Kentucky University studying photojournalism.  Jerry and I push each other. His opinion I trust most.

Jerry is great technically as well, and he was the one who implemented my vision for this site.

It was great that he was down recently and was able to attend the latest meeting with Dennis.

With barely anytime left from a full day of events.  Jerry and I left to meet with Alyssa.  We chased what little light we had left, so that Jerry could catch a quick video glimpse of her.  That will be to come.

delynn maples
delynn maples

This beautiful girl is Delynn Maples, Vice President of LFA.  Delynn is my right hand.  She is someone I can not thank enough.  I thank her for believing in me and being such a vital part of making everything happen.  Delynn has just moved to Washington State which means now we are going Skype, a familiar way that many companies work in today's world.

And, though we just spoke an hour ago, life is not the same without her and her family here.  I miss them so much already, and it's only been a week or so.  LOVE YOU Delynn!!!

I also would like to thank Alison Wynkoop Vanhoutte our secretary.  We appreciate you so much.  I've known Alison since moving to this area 6 years ago.  She is good people.  Her daughter Samantha, has always been a great little model for my personal work.

A couple of weeks ago, I met for the first time, Ms. Jennifer Kuiper, a teacher at Flagler Highschool.  Jennifer contacted me a few months ago willing to really help make a difference.  I am so impressed with the person she is, and extremely grateful to her for wanting to dive right in.  We will be working together on an upcoming fundraiser.  Thank you Jennifer!

Having only contacted a handful of people who had already known what I was trying to do, the word of mouth has gotten us this far.  Please friends continue to spread the word.  Feel free to contact Love for Alyssa if you would like to take part.

I will continue to update you all as we progress.  I never mentioned this before, but I have had many images set aside that I never plan on posting.  They are images I wish to keep until final edit, so that there will be some element of surprise come exhibition time.

Thank you all for your support, and please continue to spread the word!

Water Park

Alyssa & Alexxis
Alyssa & Alexxis
Alyssa, Alexxis, & London
Alyssa, Alexxis, & London
Alyssa & Alexxis
Alyssa & Alexxis
Alyssa
Alyssa
Alyssa loving the water
Alyssa loving the water

A quick update to let everyone know that things are moving along swimmingly.  We are very pleased at where we are at this point.  Everyday there has been something new, and exciting occurring.  We are grateful to everyone who has reached out with their support, ideas, and connections.  Please continue to spread the word!

In the Pool

Alyssa-silly face
Alyssa-silly face
Alyssa- warming hearts easily
Alyssa- warming hearts easily
Alexxis & Duane- Alexxis's Birthday
Alexxis & Duane- Alexxis's Birthday

Here is Alyssa warming hearts, and making friends so easily.  I remember we decided to go into the hot tub, and I don't even think I had gotten all the way in yet, and she had already made an instant connection with these girls.  These images show her playfulness and sweetness.

I also love this picture of Duane holding Alexxis, we were at a hotel in Daytona Beach celebrating Alexxis's birthday.  I admire this look that I see from Duane all the time.  His love for these girls shows through so much.  This is a look you will so often see, as I do.

Introduction To Alyssa

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Thought I should share with you the first time my camera clicked this beautiful face.  I had stopped by her classroom the day before just to meet her without my camera.  All the children were napping when I came in, though Alyssa was wide awake.  I went over and whispered, "How nice it is to meet you!" I immediately got what others had said, because she certainly 'had me' from the first hello.

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The following morning I came in and there she was laying on the floor about to play with a container of "my little ponies."  This was my 2nd frame.

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Alyssa Jadyn Hagstrom was born February 14th, 2004, at Ormond Beach Memorial Hospital, in Ormond Beach, FL.  At birth she was diagnosed with a condition called  Arthrogryposis.  When she was delivered her legs, arms, and wrists were in a stiff, bent, inward position that would not allow for movement. 

At two days old, all her limbs and wrists were stretched as far as possible to aim towards a more normal position; including cutting the right hamstring, for casts to set into place. 

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Within her first year of life, she had two major surgeries.  Alyssa's feet were  extremely clubbed. They were stuck in a position like a ballerina dancing in her toe shoes.  In order to gain a chance of normalcy, her Achilles tendons were cut on both feet.  Her left foot sustained even more extreme measures because of the crooked position it was in.  Surgeons had to remove her foot at the ankle bone by conducting what they call a "bone rotation,"  by cutting the bone in two places to twist and reattach into place.  Visibly seen metal rods held her foot together for six months.

This act of stretching her limbs into position to be placed in casts had to be repeated.  Her condition causes all of her joints to be contracted, causing her never to be able to have the muscle to control them. 

Today Alyssa has no use of her legs, arms, and limited use of her fingers.  This summer she may be  undergoing surgery for an elbow release.  This possibility would give her a bit of much-needed independence. Her arm would then be able to rest on the table, and she could bend down to reach towards her fork or spoon to eat.

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This is an earlier photo as well, taken back when she was receiving therapy, but at this time she is not. 

 I am very thankful to Duane for letting me into their life in such an intimate way.  I've been able to capture some beautiful images along this journey.   I am very proud of this work.  The possibilities the impact of this project could have on her life is a very overwhelming thought.

I've gone to the extent of creating this corporation to follow through with what I believe is possible.  Alyssa has no idea what she has done for me.  In her short life she has been through many disappointments and her spirit has never darkened.  She is worth fighting for. 

 I believe in the good of people.  The idea of Love For Alyssa is to create a 'movement'; for people to be inspired by the process of what coming together can create.  The art of photography is the center piece in which allows us to connect.  

This change will have a significant impact on her future.  Please come be a part of something so wonderful.

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