In Search Of A Killer

On July 10th, 2009, Melissa Barthelemy went missing.

The Buffalo, NY native that had aspirations of someday opening her own hair salon was living in the Bronx and working as a dancer and escort on Craigslist when she disappeared. Starting just after she had gone missing and continuing for several weeks afterwards, her teenage sister began to be terrorized by a series of obscene phone calls originating from Melissa’s cell phone by someone who is believed to have been the person that abducted Melissa. These calls ultimately climaxed with the caller claiming that he had killed Melissa.

Melissa Barthelemy remained missing until December 2010, when her remains and the remains of three other escorts (Maureen Brainard-Barnes, Megan Waterman, and Amber Lynn Costello) were found near the ocean side town of Gilgo Beach on Long Island. Due to the brutal nature of the killings and the proximity of the bodies to one another police were convinced that the murders might be the work of a serial killer.

To date, police have linked approximately ten victims to the Long Island Serial Killer – six more sets of remains that the police believe predate the remains of Melissa Barthelemy and the other girls found in December 2010 have been found, and investigations are ongoing into other murders that may be linked to the case. Authorities now suspect that the killer has been active for fifteen years or more.

When I met Melissa’s mother Lynn Barthelemy, and Lynn’s husband Jeff Martina, it had been two years since Melissa’s initial disappearance, and only a short time since she had even had her daughter’s remains returned. I met them when I was on an assignment for Blast! Films, a UK-based production company that was producing a documentary on the  investigation for Channel 4 in the UK and A&E Television in the US –  Blast! had sent me to create some portraits of the family to help in promoting the film.

I spent  the afternoon with Lynn and Jeff learning about their ongoing search for Melissa’s killer and listening to them speak about their experiences and their daughter in a touching way that the media often did not convey due to Melissa’s profession. The factual and stark basis of news reporting often overlooks and overshadows so many of the stories and emotions that affect the families and friends of the victims in a unforgivingly real way – one that can only really come close to being conveyed by hearing them share their own stories and memories. Lynn shared pictures and stories of Melissa with us while we shot, and also talked to us about the media coverage on the case that she has been involved in as the investigation continues to unfold.

I won’t pretend to try to understand what these people have gone through – it is impossible – the things they have experienced are so unimaginably horrific that there is no way that anyone who has not experienced a situation like this firsthand could ever fathom what it is like. What happened to their daughter is what most parents fear in their worst nightmares, yet Lynn and Jeff were very open about what has happened to their family over the past few years as they strive to raise media awareness and keep the search for this killer in the public eye. We can only hope that the ongoing investigation is successful and that these families someday find justice for their lost loved ones.

Adam Varga

Adam Varga posing for a portrait by buffalo photographer Luke Copping

Adam Varga posing for a portrait by buffalo photographer Luke Copping

Portraits of Adam Varga that were completed during some downtime between productions. Simple and stylish was the perfect way to capture Adam in these images – I love reducing things to their simplest elements and creating images like these that both encapsulate the subject’s personality and make simple but profound statements about their style. Simplicity and a sense of minimalist style are very important to me in my work, especially now that I have been creating black and white images more often. There is something delightful I find in the reduction of extraneous information from an image that is much more satisfying than adding too much to a shot and diluting its impact.

Adam Varga posing for a portrait by buffalo photographer Luke Copping

Block Club – Fandemonium

Cover of the block Club Fandemonium Issue
"Fandemonium," Block Club Magazine, Issue 27, Winter 2012. Images courtesy Block Club Magazine.

To live and die as a fan in a city whose sports history has earned inclusion on a Wikipedia page devoted to sports curses is no easy task, but vital fan dedication to the teams in Buffalo, NY  is palpable in the city, regardless of which sport you follow.  Most sport fanatics know the rundown  – four consecutive Superbowl losses for the Bills, zero Stanley Cup wins, and innumerable playoff letdowns for  Sabres fans. But if you look below the surface you see start to see the high points – Amazingly dedicated (often fanatical) fans, a city that is regularly in contention for the best tailgating city in the NFL, multiple championship wins by the Buffalo Bandits (and the only perfect season in NLL history), home of the best team in the WPS (The Western NY Flash) and a sports tradition that stretches far back into the city’s rich history. Fans in Buffalo are always chasing those championships, their emotions shifting with every goal, win, loss, and BS bad call.

This ebb and flow of emotions – hope, anger, joy, disappointment, elation, disbelief, shock, and every subtle variation in between – was a driving factor in telling the story of Buffalo’s sports for Block Club Magazine when they gave me the challenge of capturing what it means to be a fan in Buffalo for their Winter 2012 issue. It was a fascinating look at a community whose ravenous enthusiasm for sports has given it a resilient pride – not just in the triumphs of its team, but its failures as well. It was summed up well in the article itself with a quote from Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses (One of my favorites, I love anything that quotes some Cormac McCarthy) “Scars have the strange power to remind us that our past is real”

Go Sabres!

WNY Sports Fan Reaction Portraits  WNY Sports Fan Reaction Portraits WNY Sports Fan Reaction Portraits  WNY Sports Fan Reactions

Adam Varga

Adam Varga in Funnel Neck Coat

Adam Varga in Funnel Neck Coat

I shot these images right at the end of 2011, but I wanted to hold off on sharing them with you until today to kick off the new year with some style. I was introduced to Adam through my friend and client, WGRZ television host Lydia Dominick, when he was in Buffalo recently as part of a production I had been working with Lydia on. Adam is a fellow Canadian and one of those subjects that you develop a rapport with instantly (much like Lydia). After working with him on one project (which will debut in a couple of weeks) I ended up having him back in the studio later that same week to create this elegantly simple series of portraits.

And it looks like he broke out that fur hat just in time, as the first real winter storm might be rolling in tonight after weeks of mild winter weather. I am excited to get out and shoot in the snow soon.

Adam Varga in winter hatAdam varga in tankt op and fur hatAdam Varga portrait in funnel neck coatAdam Varga in Fur hat and coat

Black Enterprise Magazine – July

Black Enterprise Magazine July Tear Sheet

Black Enterprise Magazine July Tear Sheet

Lots of projects getting wrapped up, and lots of new ones starting. I have some new work in this month’s issue of Black Enterprise Magazine covering SLR Contracting and its President, Sundra Ryce, as a follow up to the company’s presence in the Black Enterprise 100 issue last month.

In addition to the images that ran in the feature, here are a few added portraits from that day’s shoot.

Outtake from the set

Alternate portraits from shoot

Alternate portraits from shoot