For Baltimore-based photographer Nolan Ryan Trowe, winning a $15,000 grant from Getty Images is all about freedom. It affirms that he’s on to something with his latest project, documenting the everyday lives of a group of his friends in New York’s Harlem who, like him, live with physical disabilities. It means he can continue doing it the way he wants to do it, on his schedule, without anyone breathing down his neck about deadlines or subject matter or trying a different approach.
And it means he won’t have to do all the work himself. He’d been thinking about recruiting those same friends to do some of the shooting, maybe even include him in some of the pictures. The grant, Trowe says, gives him the freedom to do just that.
“I’ve now given them cameras, and they’re taking pictures of me as well,” Trowe said this week from Harlem, where he’s back continuing a project he hopes will give his friends “the opportunity to show their life the way they want to show it.”
The Getty Images grant is awarded in conjunction with Verizon Media. “The Disabilities Stories grant helps to further the creation of content that respectfully and authentically depicts the disability community,” Larry Goldberg, Head of Accessibility at Verizon Media, said in a release announcing the grant.
“Selecting our first-prize winner was challenging until we looked at Nolan’s total body of work," Guy Merrill, Global Head of Art at Getty Images, wrote in an email. "As a photographer who lives the experiences he’s capturing, Nolan Ryan Trowe is uniquely able to convey the truth in living with a disability, and through his images, able to take us from simply observing, to experiencing.”
A native of California who walks using two canes after suffering a spinal cord injury while cliff diving some four years ago, Trowe began taking photography seriously while enrolled in the master’s program in experimental humanities and social thought at New York University.
“Before the injury, I would just go around and take pictures of whatever,” he says. “I never did it seriously until I moved to New York...People started telling me, ‘What you’re shooting is important, and you should keep doing it.'”
Trowe, who lives in Butchers Hill, moved to Baltimore about five months ago to be with fiancée, multi-media journalist Jacqueline Sofia. He continues to travel back and forth to Harlem to work on his project, and says he has a publisher interested in making a book out of it.
Which is great, he says. But even the promise of publication is not going to make him rush things. The project will be done when it’s done, and not a moment before.
"I think they’d like to publish the work probably by the end of the year,” Trowe says. “But they also wanted me to publish the work in September, and I had to tell them it’s not ready yet. Until we all feel that it’s ready, then that’s as long as it’s going to take. There’s no one in the world who’s going to change my mind.”