August 21, 2009

BAG Archive Edition: Terri's Army

Archive Note: This post appeared on June 26, 2005 and features portraits by photographer Tim Fadek of pro-life supporters of Terri Schiavo.  The post raises a number of questions, such as how much the fanaticism in '05 mirrors what we're seeing today; whether any relationship exists between Terri's situation and the current "death panel" hysteria; and whether the religious right is dead or just dormant.  Original post and comments here.

Fadek Schiavo-1

Jeb just can't let Terri go.

With his recent decision to investigate Michael Schiavo's role in his wife's medical demise, Jeb Bush and the Right to Life movement demonstrate that there is still mileage to be gained from this entanglement.

In the BAG's recent effort to collaborate with photojournalists, I've had the opportunity to correspond with Timothy Fadek. Tim is an award winning photographer whose work has been published in Time, Newsweek, The NYT Magazine, as well as major publications worldwide. Perhaps with posterity in mind, Tim was in Florida during the Schiavo controversy and made portraits of many of the pro-life adherents who found their way to the hospice. (His letter is below.)

Portraits are inherently interesting. How a person presents himself to a camera — especially in the role of an advocate — can offer a window into that person's personality and disposition. I offer these images (and the opportunity to read into them — which is the trademark of this site) for two reasons:

First, I'm interested in the way we will look back on this episode. Religious extremists are operating with more power (and "teflon") than I can ever remember. The President himself, as well as leading members of Congress are either drawn from the movement, or are strongly catering to it. What happens to the role of the fundamentalists, however, if a moderate becomes the GOP standard bearer? Will a wider segment of the population come to see these activists as fanatics?

Second, liberals and progressive usually talk about moral extremists as a monolithic group. In considering these images, however, one can't help but consider these folks who trekked to Florida in more individual terms. By offering these images, I thought it might force a consideration of different motivations and personality types among the Right to Lifers.

I am grateful to Tim for making these images available to us. For each one, I have supplied Tim's caption (omitting last names) and my own associations. My idea was that you might also study them and provide impressions and interpretations. There are more images after the fold, as well as a message from Tim. (You can click on each image for a larger version.)


1. The Cutout

Tim's Caption: Nancy of Pinellas Park, Florida. She holds a cardboard cutout of U.S. President George W. Bush, as a visual appeal for the president to get involved in support of Terri Schiavo. Kramer herself suffered brain damage after an automobile accident and has some difficulty with her balance. She was outraged by the Schiavo tragedy and saw it as an attack on disabled people and sees the courts actions as un-American.

My Take: This shot testifies to the degree George Bush has given the Right To Lifers a sense of higher authority — not to mention unconditional support. It also exemplifies how many of these activist personally bonded with a human shell (I mean Terry, not Bush) through the perception of shared misfortune. It's an empathy — but a more primitive, self-serving kind. Also, you should always be careful around people who put a hand on the hip like that. Usually, there's no come back.


2. Mad

Tim's Caption: Ed, 22, from Cedar Grove, Wisconsin. He is a Christian and is angry at the apparent injustice in the Terri Schiavo case and believes strongly in the right to life.

My Take: I was pleased to see this image. I just don't understand why there isn't more discussion of what really motivates a large cross section of moral extremists. Forget about faith, lets talk about ANGER. By the way, have you noticed a recent tendency for right wing politicians and political appointees to pose for photographs by turning and pointing a shoulder at the camera? It's often a sign of defiance — or hostility. The fact this kid did agree to be photographed means he's not completely alienated — although I don't think I'd want to try and discuss it with him.


3. Brother Paul

Tim's Caption: Brother Paul of the Franciscan Brothers of Peace.
He has provided direct council to the Schindler family and has been an
outspoken voice for the family to the media.

My Take: The Franciscan Brothers for Peace describe their
members as men who "leave everything" to follow Jesus Christ in order
to live out a "radical call to discipleship." The group — dedicated to
the Right to Life movement — regularly conducts prayer sessions
outside abortion clinics. From the neck down, I find Brother Paul quite
disarming. The relaxed shoulders suggest unconflicted ease with himself
and his work. The hands at his side read like the unquestioning
soldier. I wonder about the face and that right foot, though. The foot
looks like he might have been inpatient standing for the portrait.
(Maybe he would rather have said no?) I don't recall seeing him in his
role as family spokesperson, but the face seems to betray some


4. On The Line

Tim's Caption: Larry Klayman, attorney for Freedom Watch, a conservative christian organization and advocate for the Schindler family. 

My Take:
Why pose on the phone? Is it a FU? Is he hung up on
his own importance? With the phone and the glasses, I think he's
reserving his right to deny he took part in the photo. At the same
time, he seems like one of those small time operators that keep Swift
Boat-like attack operations afloat. I think the lapel pin is a flag.
The pocket handkerchief seems like a stereotyped gesture to suggest
he's a man with class. (Sorry, but I can't help but be tougher on the


5. The Bottle

Tim's Caption: Janet, Lakeland, Florida. She holds a bottle of water as a symbol of the desire to provide water to Terri Schiavo.

My Take: I like this shot for the sense of righteousness. Is she
looking over the camera, or perhaps facing off with it? (It also brings
to mind the Statue of Liberty.) I would have liked to have asked if she
really thought Terri could drink this water. My thought is that a lot
of these people are concrete thinkers. If Janet was also, she would
deny that her gesture was symbolic. This kind of mental process is
scary. These are the people who looked at the photo of Terri and her
Mom and found that it proved that Terri could not have been in a vegetative state.


6. Family Photo

Tim's Caption: Reverend and his son. When he heard the camera shutter click, the son, age 4, would happily shout "Jesus!" 

My Take: I found this picture troubling. I think it's
because I hate to see kids drawn into this. James and his son are the
only African-Americans in the collection. It makes me wonder how much
the mobilization was a white thing. (That is Dean's argument, isn't
it?) The poster is a strong message coming from a minister. Aren't the
fundamentalists just as much playing God, however? The strangest
element to me, though, is that the Reverend is sporting two
signs. Is it possible he doubts his ability to get his point across?
Also, is there some regional, ethnic or religious tradition for placing
one around his neck?

Finally, the following is Tim Fadek's letter accompanying the images:

Terri Schiavo's autopsy confirms the truth

In late March, 2005, I was on assignment outside the Woodside
Hospice in Pinellas Park, Florida, photographing the story of Terri
Schiavo, the brain-damaged Florida woman at the heart of a bitter
right-to-die dispute. On March 31, 13 days after her feeding tube was
disconnected, she died.

I spent some of my time photographing a portrait series of the Keep
Terri Alive crowd, a patchwork of mostly Christians, right-to-lifers,
clergy, and self-appointed Schindler family spokespersons. All made
their pilgrimages and public appearance in front of the hospice. They
prayed publicly for Terri, spoke to reporters, wore t-shirts with their
message, held crosses and signs up for the television cameras.

On June 15, the autopsy results were released. The long-awaited
report found that the 41-year-old woman's brain had shrunk to about
half its normal size. The cause of death was dehydration from removal
of the feeding tube, the autopsy found Schiavo suffered from severe and
irreversible brain-damage.

The examination of her remains confirmed she was not strangled, poisoned,

bludgeoned or starved to death.

The autopsy results still have done nothing to sway her parents'
position that she deserved to live and may have gotten better with

Schiavo's parents said that she showed signs she was aware of her
surroundings, but doctors said her reactions were automatic responses
and not evidence of thought or consciousness. They maintain that
belief, even though the autopsy also determined she was blind.

"There's nothing in her autopsy report that is inconsistent with a
persistent vegetative state," said Dr. Stephen J. Nelson, a medical
examiner who assisted in the neurological portion of the autopsy.

The people I met and photographed outside the hospice believe in
life at all costs. However, I don’t think the autopsy results will ever
sway their beliefs, even though it seems to clearly and unambiguously
refute the position that her parents and right-to-life supporters have
taken. Although, the autopsy might diminish the martyr status that some
had given her.

It’s time to move on.

Let her rest in peace.

Timothy Fadek

New York City, June 22, 2005

View the full gallery here

(I made an effort to present the "less eccentric" looking folks. In

that way, I think it makes us look at these images more seriously.)

Tim Fadek's website here.

Post By

Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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