My Midwest: Mercury Rising
One of the joys of working on MyMIDWEST is that the editorial and design departments get to collaborate closely. This particular piece began as a discussion around our assignment table, when one staff member mentioned Badwater, an Ultramarathon in which people run 135 miles non-stop through the desert of Death Valley, during July's blazing heat. Our first question was, "Who does this?"
With our small team and limited resources, those of us on staff will often pull double duty. For example, both the editor, Sam Polcer, and I shoot photography for the magazine, taking on assignments that we feel are either exciting or just make sense with our budget. This was a project I wanted from the get-go, as I am passionate about portraiture and believe that the individuals who undertake such an experience must have amazing stories to tell.
This was key. In the early discussions of how the feature would be written, I proposed that instead of writing a long narrative about these people, we let the runners write the story instead, sharing everything from their most bizarre fatigue-induced hallucinations to the reasons they run. My brother, a triathlete, referred us to a site where we put out the call, and we were inundated with responses. A one-page survey was sent out to 10 selected participants. We asked them to write their answers in their own handwriting (a bit of a gamble, considering the issues of penmanship, though we asked them on the survey to make it as legible as possible).
All of the forms were brought to Badwater and handed to me as I took photos of each runner over the course of the 30 hours before the race (few arrived any earlier than that, and many just the afternoon before).
Shooting five locations in 125-degree heat in the mid-day (no one had time early in the morning or late in the afternoon), I had a chance to capture portraits of these extraordinary people in an extraordinary environment. When it came to designing the feature, I wanted to mix the handwriting and the portraits--all while communicating a sense of unbearable heat. In keeping with the theme, the title typography is handwritten and distressed. The lomographic images in the opening spread create a sense of movement and help give the impression of oppressive heat in a stark landscape. The personalities themselves aren't revealed until the third page--a structure that works well with the question in the dek.
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