The Power of a Photo Essay: The Battle We Didn’t Choose

Shaving Jens head at the hospital

“A picture is worth 1000 words…” and while this cliche may be both tired and incredibly overused, there is still some truth and value to it. When you create a photo-story (or photo-essay) you are relying on images to do all the talking for you. What this means for you, the photographer, is that your images need to: convey a range of emotions that cater to a universal audience flow in a cohesive manner, construct a viable story and be concise enough to only include what’s completely necessary. A photo-story can be an incredibly powerful delivery system for a personal message, or sharing a story that can appeal to a global audience. Without words to accompany them, images are forced to stand on their own and deliver their message in a way that can be understood by anyone.

Angelo Merendino chose document an extremely tough story to tell: the story of his wife’s struggle with breast cancer. With Angelo’s deeply personal set of images we are taken through the full spectrum of emotion from: joy, strength and incredible courage, to sadness, frailty and the anguish of death. This is a prime example of an effective story, and one that hits you right in the heart and doesn’t let go.

Editor’s Note: This is an extremely gripping story and we’d like to warn you before you proceed. However, it demonstrates a point that we feel needs to be expressed.


Phoblographer: What made you want to grab your camera and commit to documenting the last days of your wife’s time on earth?

Jen and me beers on the stoop

Angelo: In April of 2010 Jennifer’s cancer metastasized to her liver and bone. This meant many things, one of which was that until there was a cure Jen would always have to receive treatment. As we struggled to face our daily challenges we found that our family and friends did not understand how serious Jen’s illness and our life had become. Often we would be told “You are going to be ok, you just have to stay positive.” It was n0t a lack of positivity, it was cancer spreading in Jennifer’s body. We realized that most people do not know what the reality of day-to-day life with cancer is like so with Jen’s blessing I began to photograph our daily challenges with the hope that our family and friends would better understand what we were facing.

Phoblographer: How did you stay in the mindset of a documentarian when doing all this?

Angelo: Taking care of Jennifer was always my first priority so I really didn’t think too much about making photographs. My camera was always at arm’s length with the exposure in the right place and when something hit my gut I made a photograph. When I started making these photographs there was no intention other than sharing them with our family and friends. Before long the photographs took on their own life.


Jen applying mascara

Jen hair in hands

9-22-2011 Jen in pain in ER

Jen waiting for radiologist

Our bed during hospice

10-19-2011 Jen on the corner


If you’d like to see the entire photo essay, we recommend that you head over to My Wife’s Fight with Breast Cancer.

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Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.