Brandon Cawood wanted to take photos of heroes — the kind who don’t wear capes.
He wanted to profile the everyday heroes, the ones who put out fires, who are giving CPR on the side of the road after a wreck, the ones who solve crimes.
He wanted to challenge himself as a photographer while focusing on these men and women who risk their lives daily.
At first, no one seemed interested in helping with his project.
“It was really hard getting started,” Cawood said. “I tried to follow all the proper channels you would think you would need to to work with people like police and firefighters, but I pretty much ran into a brick wall going back and forth on emails that seemed to constantly end with ‘I’ll let you know when I hear something.’”
But Cawood, a videographer for Surya in Calhoun and the owner of the photography/video business Flash Light Productions, is persistent.
“I knew if I could just shoot my first image people would understand my vision,” he said. “This was unlike anything people around here had seen or even thought about doing with our locals.”
He was right. Once Cawood posted the first image to his Facebook page, several other people jumped on board. Soon the project wasn’t just about focusing on these heroes. It grew into a fundraiser called “Not All Wear Capes.” Money raised benefits the Creative Arts Guild’s scholarship program.
Cawood will be the featured artist at the Guild’s First Friday on Dec. 6 at 5:30 p.m. There will be a silent auction on canvases of the images, and 2014 calendars that feature the images will be sold for $10 apiece. The event is free and open to the public.
Most images are composites, meaning there are several photos pieced together to create one image.
The only photo to be released so far is of Clay Headrick, a firefighter with the Dalton Fire Department. The image contains at least 20 photographs pieced together from three different shoots. Headrick is reaching down grabbing a person’s hand with a building burning around him.
“I shot Clay,” said Cawood. “I shot the background, which was an old falling down house in Calhoun. Then I shot all the flames and sparks in my back yard. I was safe. It was really just one board. I shot it multiple times at different angles, but I used a high shutter (speed) and high ISO (International Organization of Standardization) to freeze them.”
The image took about 30 hours of computer time to create.
Cawood isn’t releasing any other image before the First Friday event. Other agencies involved in the exhibit are the Dalton Police Department, the Varnell Police Department’s K9 Unit, the Georgia State Patrol SWAT unit, the Georgia State Patrol’s dive team, Erlanger Medical Center’s LifeForce air ambulance, the Whitfield County 911 Center, the Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office, Hamilton Medical Center’s emergency room and Whitfield County Emergency Medical Services.
All images have a similar style to that of a movie promotional poster, gritty with dramatic lighting.
“It’s so great,” said Cawood’s fiancee Whitney Tanner, who helps Cawood with the project. “He’s done such a good job. He has absolutely worked himself to death. To him this isn’t just a photography project. This is art. He really perfects it. ... I think it’s a really cool project. My favorite part is that it’s all about the people who serve the Whitfield County area.”
When Cawood began soliciting for first responders to photograph, Stephanie Albertson, a paramedic at Hamilton Emergency Medical Services, was the first to say she would help. She is engaged to Headrick.
“I said, ‘Sure, we’ll do it,’” Albertson said. “We weren’t even sure what we were doing at the time. I thought it would be cool. ... Clay’s was amazing. I think it blew him away when he saw it. He wasn’t expecting anything like that.”
Albertson, who has been a friend of Cawood’s for several years, said she’s thankful he decided to include paramedics in the series.
“Not to take away from the fire department or police, but they always get an ‘atta boy’ but we never do,” she said. “We’re always left out. It’s probably always going to be that way. So when he was going to include us in it, it was nice to be included for a change.”
Terry Tomasello, executive director of the Creative Arts Guild, is impressed with Cawood’s work and says she’s excited to feature him as an artist.
“It’s a nice note to end the year on,” Tomasello said. “This time of year is all about giving back.”
Everything raised at the event will go to the Guild’s scholarship programs. Scholarships are offered to families who want to take classes at the Guild but do not have the funds to do so. They cover music, dance and the visual arts.
“We don’t turn anybody away,” Tomasello said. “Brandon is helping us achieve that.”
“I think what’s so great about it to me is that the photography is of unsung heroes in this community,” she said. “Giving them kudos for the hard work they do. They are unsung heroes for all of us. It speaks to who he is. He’s an unsung hero. He’s giving back to the community through the Creative Arts Guild.”
The style of photography and the dramatic scenes used for the shoots make “it more real,” Tomasello said. “They put their life on the line. We should all be very appreciative of that. He’s doing such a good thing on so many levels, not just for the Creative Arts Guild but to raise awareness that we owe them a debt of gratitude.”
Cawood has spent countless hours working on the 12 images that will be displayed.
“He’s pouring his heart into something and he’s never even been a firefighter or paramedic or anything,” Tanner said.
Cawood said it was difficult to schedule everything considering work shifts and his full-time job.
“Honestly, this has been one of, if not the most, rewarding things I have ever been a part of,” he said. “But it has also been one of the most challenging. ... They are ordinary everyday people doing extraordinary selfless things for us and our safety.”