All Edward Fieder needs is a camera to tell eloquent stories of myriad lives with diabetes.
A fellow type 1 himself diagnosed almost 16 years ago, the 26-year old Alabama native uses his photography and graphic design skills to inform and inspire others through his collective work, called The Faces of Diabetes.
His website, launched Jan. 1, sprung from a successful crowdfunding campaign late last year that raised $5,526. It's now a channel for him to not only share photos and stories from the D-Community far and wide, but also to build up a network of people he can soon meet in person for more photo shoots that will appear in the print version of The Faces of Diabetes that he's creating.
Sure, the web is already brimming with blogs and sites these days where PWDs can share their own stories and connect with other D-peeps who "get it." But we haven't really seen this happen through photography, so what Ed is doing seems quite unique and a perfect fit for our Amazing Advocates series.
We've kept an eye on Ed's site during the past few months since its launch, and got a chance to chat with him by phone recently to hear more about his own D-story, what the reaction has been so far to his project, and what his hopes are for the unique imagery he's creating.
Ed was 11 when type 1 diabetes entered his world in the late 90s, but it wasn't the first time for the family -- his older sister was diagnosed about seven years earlier when she was 8. Unlike her, Ed says he took his diagnosis really hard that June between fifth and sixth grades.
"I flipped out, crying myself to sleep and was hysterical," he says.
But after attending diabetes camp, he started seeing life a little more positively and believing that he could manage his diabetes. "It's been a roller coaster, but all's been good," he laughs, noting that he now looks back on his D-camp experience as life-changing.
As he describes it:
"Throughout all the good and bad times one thing remained constant: I could never be broken by this disease. Regardless of all the garbage I've had to deal with, I've never really let it keep me down. And I don't want other people that live with diabetes to ever feel down either. You are not alone!"
Ed remembers that after D-Camp, he started to go around saying he'd "lead the diabetes revolution," mainly because it sounded cool at the time -- but he had no idea what it really meant.
"I just knew from then on, that I wanted to do something with diabetes, and that I could help people."
And when he turned 21, his purpose became more clear -- with a little focus through a camera lens, that is.
Ed moved to Colorado briefly, and that's when he bought an entry-level professional camera and began shooting and learning how to do real-life photography like he'd always wanted to.
"That was all she wrote," he says.
He went back to school to study photography and graphic design, learning how to use a digital camera and be more innovative in his craft, with the thought that he might someday be able to take pictures and create design concepts for businesses. Eventually, he started weaving his diabetes life into his photography and that became his senior thesis project, shining a light on that personal side of his life through photography.
That thesis included 6 photos depicting his creative diabetes photography, images he calls: Low Blood Sugar, Socks and Shoes, Healthy Choices, Pain, Reality, and Addiction. Each one has a particular diabetes story behind it, of course, but he hopes his photo creativity helps you use your own imagination!
After his graduation in May 2012, an offhand conversation sparked the idea for The Faces of Diabetes project, as a way to expand his senior thesis work beyond his own life and tell other PWDs' stories.
"My dad suggested a portrait book, and make it 'not about you,'" Ed told us, saying they settled on a layout that would include a single picture of each PWD with just a sentence or short paragraph about the person. The images should tell a story on their own.
Since forming the idea about a year ago, Ed worked to create a Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign that kicked off late last year in November, and within a month Ed had raised more than the $5,000 needed to create The Faces of Diabetes.
Here's his campaign video:
Along the way, Ed also heard feedback from backers that a website could be used to feature some D-stories and photos online, building up to the book.
"There are plenty of people that share the same struggles and go through the same battles every day. I made this project in hopes that they'll be inspired and learn about how diabetes has affected other people's lives," he said. "Diabetes may seem rough when you don't know anyone else who lives with it, but rest assured there are plenty of us out there."
Ed has shared about 16 stories and photos in the past few months -- a lot less than he'd hoped. At some point, he'd like to get enough photos with stories to feature someone new every day of the week.
He's collecting photos and stories from PWDs around the world, posting them online as a way to inspire others in the D-Community. Not all of those will end up in the book, which he says will concentrate on PWDs from his neck of the woods in the southern states of Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, and northern Florida.
The biggest challenge is finding people in those areas and being able to schedule travel to get the photos. That's a big expense, along with paying out of pocket for the website operation. While he has setup an online store with some of his own photography work and other fun merchandise to help raise money, Ed says it's all his own money right now and he hasn't tapped into any of the Kickstarter campaign money yet.
With a day job in a film development company where he removes dust from black and white pics, and also keeping up his own non-diabetes photography portfolio, Ed says he shoots The Faces of Diabetes in his off-hours as he can.
There's no timeline yet for book completion, but Ed hopes to get the word out more ASAP, and find fellow diabetics to submit pictures and their stories online -- which he hopes will lead to finding others he can meet in person for photo shoots.
Ed is thinking about traveling to the CWD Friends for Life conference in Orlando this summer as a way to be in a place with plenty of D-families that could be featured. (Great idea!) And he's also hoping that real-life D-meetups with people in his area or thereabouts will help garner some more participation from the community. Oh, and if you're inspired to get in touch: he's on Facebook too!
What kind of photos is he looking for? Nothing fancy, he says, just relaxed and candid.
"We just have to have fun... This is a time to play, not to be all serious and 'photo perfect.' We can just play with the lighting, the environment and what people like to do... it's about exploring ourselves through photography."
Great project, Ed, especially in a world where quality visual imagery is becoming currency!