Visual Storytelling: A Love Story and Twins for a Combat Veteran Amputee

This New York Times photo essay demonstrates how powerful visuals can be in storytelling. The raw intimacy of this 24-photograph series, with the respective captions, immediately intrigues the reader with the unique challenges and joys of this couple’s relationship. Rachel and Jason, middle school sweethearts, find each other after Jason loses both legs and an arm during his time serving as a minesweeper in Afghanistan. The photographer follows Jason’s recovery and the couple’s attempts at pregnancy through in vitro fertilization treatments, which was at the time not covered by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The article that accompanies this photo story provides some necessary background information and connects their experience with in vitro fertilization to the greater national issue of the lack of IVF treatment coverage for veteran amputees. There is no clear lede or nut graph, but I believe this places more importance on the photographs, which preface the written story, and in my opinion do not take away from the strength or organization of the article. The kicker provides a memorable and optimistic close to a sensitive and important story.

What do you think about the organization of the article, and its relationship to the photographs? Does the inclusion of the two paragraphs about the photographer feel necessary?

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15 Responses to “Visual Storytelling: A Love Story and Twins for a Combat Veteran Amputee”

  1. Hey Emilie! The link for the article is broken, so I wasn’t able to find it!

    • Just kidding I found it!

      This was amazing and I definitely felt things clicking through the pictures I would definitely not have felt just reading an article. The organization if simple and perfect – just chronological order. I did not like the inclusion of the information about the photographer. I thought it was stupid and took away from the actual story they were trying to tell.

  2. Emilie:
    You selected a perfect demonstration of the power of visual storytelling with this article. It’s hard not to be moved by the story of this couple. The incredible photographs make their journey come alive. The article isn’t a typical news article, though. It’s more of a story, told through both words and photographs. I was more interested in the details of that story than in how the photographer found them. In my opinion, a quick mention of the photographer would have sufficed. The concluding quote at the end was so eloquent, but it would have been even more effective if had come from Rachel discussing her connection to her husband, not the photographer. Also, just a quick style note: there is no mention of the couple’s last name. Since their photos are in the newspaper, their identity is hardly protected. I wonder if this section employs a different style for these stories and if so, why that’s the case.

    • evanhoopingarner Reply March 7, 2017 at 11:37 pm

      In the photo where Jason’s training to be a financial advisor (7 of 24), you can see his last name of Hallett on his name tag. I agree that it’s strange not to have their name in the article or in the captions at all, but maybe it’s not to protect identity or privacy but rather to maintain a sense of intimacy and personal connection to the photography subjects. I personally found that I had more of an emotional connection to Jason and Rachel than I think I would have if they were just referred to by last name, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of other people did as well.

      What is the standard procedure when doing a profile of a person/couple – do you refer to them by last name or first?

  3. This article was very compelling and was a nice feel-good story to read on a Tuesday morning. I think having the pictures incorporated through the article instead of in a slideshow beforehand would have been beneficial, as there were aspects of the slideshow (like how Jason began a job at Northwestern Mutual and the testosterone injections) that did not make sense until reading the article. Additionally, the article spoke of how Rachel was struggling with the pregnancy, which is why Jason took the job at Northwestern Mutual, but this did not come across in the slideshow. A picture demonstrating that aspect would have been beneficial. As Sarah and Julie both stated, the information about the photographer seemed extensive. A sentence or two would have been enough, just to give her some credit. Overall though, I really enjoyed this piece, it was simple and happy.

  4. Hi Emilie,
    I really love the way this story is laid out, and like Sarah I was moved by the photography. I think the selected photos do a wonderful job of capturing the differences and similarities of the couple’s lives, as well as the everyday struggles they both go through. The parallel between the IVF process and Jason’s disability is complicated and powerful, so I am glad this article references the broader discussion. As this is a story largely based off the work of a photographer, I’m glad she is talked about, but I found her introduction in the story to be a little out-of-nowhere. Overall, a wonderful story, and I just wish there was more.

  5. Madeleine Gerson Reply March 7, 2017 at 12:53 pm

    I really enjoyed this story and thought the photos were especially moving and powerful, particularly the one of Sarah and Jason receiving news of Sarah’s pregnancy. I didn’t mind that the photos and story were separate as the story was more factual and provided background of the story, whereas the photos provided the humanistic aspect of the story, serving a different purpose. Although the lede was well written, I didn’t think the first line was compelling, “Theirs was a typical love story,” as it didn’t really grab my attention. Thanks for sharing this story!

    • The photos did add a humanistic aspect to the story, which engages readers and allows them to connect more. While we know these are real stories, the use of photos transforms the story into more than just a bunch of words — it allows us to make human connections. I disagree that the first line wasn’t compelling. It wasn’t that it stood out to me, but it seemed like a line that was meant to evoke a feeling of familiarity and comfort.

  6. I agree that this was more of an inspirational story rather than a controversial news article. I enjoyed the the visuals and I think they did an excellent job portraying the emotional journey of Rachel and Jason. The article did discuss issues regarding the cost of I.V.F and the lack of support from the Veterans Affairs Department, but was able to focus back to the experience of Jason and Rachel and how they found help in their time of need. I’m not sure how I feel about the slideshow of photographs being at the top of the article. I feel that it would have been a little more positively effective if it were at the end. For me it made it more real and inspiring to view the pictures after reading the article. Looking at the photos before hand my make the viewer jump to conclusions or simply take away from the deeper meaning behind the story.

  7. What a heartwarming article! I read the short article before viewing the slideshow, which I think was helpful and made me appreciate the photos more than I would have if I viewed them without understanding the context. I agree with what others have said, the information about the photographer was unnecessary to the piece. I think the paragraph about the high cost of IVF and its lack of coverage in the VA, as well as the new Congressional bill, could’ve been expanded upon. Some other statistics could’ve been stated to make this story “bigger,” like the number of veterans using the new bill, or how many veterans use IVF and have to pay for the costs themselves.

  8. The story about Jason and Rachel demonstrates a sense of resiliency the couples have in overcoming their struggles. I agree with others in that the organization of the story flows well with the order of the pictures in the slide show. I think that the portion about the photographer was a bit confusing because at first I thought, the photographer found the couple during her photography project about IVF; however, the slide show does not seem to match with that description. I also think that the paragraph about the photographer could have condensed to a few sentences so that the readers can have the full attention on Jason and Rachel’s story. Lastly, I appreciate the author bringing awareness of covering IVF for veterans in addition to giving the readers a story about unconditional love with a happy ending.

  9. Wow, what a compelling story! More of a profile of a unique couple than your typical news article- I think that their situation would have made a strong lede for an article about long-distance romances of veterans, or about the unique difficulties and successes that amputation brings to one’s personal life. However, I can absolutely see why the author and photographer were so engrossed in this one particular story.

    An awesome opportunity to do something a little different, and make people think in a different way- typically, the articles I read about wounded veterans are about exposing their misery and mistreatment. Important! But it’s equally important to show how they’re affected as human beings, not just as patients (or even victims) of an often broken and unfair system.

  10. I agree that including a photo series in traditional articles make them far more compelling, and in many ways more emotionally-accessible, to the reader. It also allows stories to go into greater depth without reaching an excessive word count; photos really communicate ideas that would typically take a lot of words to convey. I also don’t think the information about the photographer was necessary but perhaps the Times had their own reasons for including it. Overall, though, I thought this was a fine, heart-warming article and while I thought the lede and nut graph were unique and attention-grabbing, I especially liked the romantic tone of the quote that serves as the kicker.

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