It started as a form of therapy after five of his colleagues at the Capital Gazette newspaper were killed in the Annapolis, Maryland, newsroom where they all worked.
Photographer Paul Gillespie, one of the survivors of the attack, said he found himself needing to keep busy. Otherwise the post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety would take over.
So, he started taking portraits. He began with the people he calls family, his Capital Gazette co-workers.
“The project started off just for something for me to do on my days off,” but Gillespie said he was then urged to turn the photos into a project.
That project became “Journalists Matter: Faces of the Capital Gazette.” The exhibit will open on Sunday, Oct. 6 in Annapolis.
Five people were killed on June 28, 2018 when a gunman walked into the newspaper’s offices on Bestgate Road: Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiassen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters.
Gillespie took portraits of his colleagues who survived the attack, such as reporter Selene San Felice. She posed with arms outstretched, a pen in one hand, a reporter’s notebook in the other.
As he was sorting through photos for the upcoming show, Gillespie said he was faced with choosing which images should be featured in the exhibit. He didn’t hesitate when it came to San Felice’s photo.
“There was one definite photo I was like, ‘That’s the one.’ … Sometimes they just speak to me,” Gillespie said.
There were other cases where he agonized over which photo to use. Gillespie said he ended up choosing two photos of Capital Gazette editor Rick Hutzell.
“He’s the only one that has two in the show,” Gillespie said. “One is more about him, but the other one has a quilt that has all five people that we lost in it, and that one had to be shown, too,” he said.
Gillespie also asked the family members of those who were killed to sit for portraits. He is especially grateful for their participation.
“All the people that lost somebody, their pictures are really special to me because I’ve said it before, they’ve given me the most precious gift” of their time and their willingness to share the impact of their own grief and loss, he said.
As the sense of loss was revisited with each portrait, Gillespie said the project was at times emotionally taxing. “It can be. But as I’ve said before, every one of these photo sessions has been like therapy.”
Each photo session would start off light and easy, with small talk and chatter. Toward the end, the session would delve into what happened on the day of the shooting.
“Through therapy, I’ve learned that it’s good to talk about these things instead of (keeping) them bottled up,” Gillespie said. By his count, there were 27 such “therapy sessions,” each one healing.
One of the toughest things, he said, was writing the title cards that accompanied each photo.
“That brings up a lot of stuff,” he said, explaining that he would go back and research each portrait, including rereading the obituaries of his colleagues. “That’s been somewhat harder.”
Gillespie, who is used to turning his camera on others, said that he is a bit anxious about the upcoming show and being in the spotlight. “That’s not something I’m used to,” he said. “I got a little anxiety about it.”
But despite his nervousness, he said optimistically, “But it’s going to be great. We’re going to have a good time.”
The show will be a bit of a Capital Gazette reunion, Gillespie has learned. The list of former reporters and photographers who have worked at the Capital and Gazette newspapers is a long one. Many have gone on to work at The Baltimore Sun and The Washington Post, and other news outlets.
But the shared connection goes beyond the Capital Gazette family or those who work in the news business. “I can’t go to an assignment without someone telling me that they delivered the Capital or Maryland Gazette as a kid!” Gillespie said.
Another group Gillespie wants to express his gratitude to are the people who contributed to his Go Fund Me page, which allowed him to pursue the project. He started with a modest goal of about $8,000, and the contributions have generated nearly $18,000, which Gillespie said could allow the exhibit to travel. There could also be a book in the works.
Asked what he wants people to take away from the project, Gillespie makes a pitch for people to subscribe to their local papers. And he added, “Anything you can do to make the world a better place is always good.”
The exhibit opening will be held at the Art Farm in Annapolis on Sunday, Oct. 6 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. The exhibit will remain on view through Oct. 30.
Take a peek into what will be in the exhibit at Gillespie’s GoFundMe page.