He was in San Francisco on vacation and came by to let me photograph him. As he took his clothes off I asked what sort of work he did.
At first he was a little reluctant to talk about his work. It was probably bad form for me to press him about it, but my curiosity got the better of me. I asked him to tell me some stories.
I had him settle comfortably on the chair so he could tell me stories from work. As he talked his hands became animated. He spoke with astonishing calmness about the horrors he encounters often, in the course of a day’s work.
Suddenly the young man who was assisting me walked out of the room, saying “I can’t do this.”
I left for a few minutes to be sure my assistant was ok. When I came back, alone, the paramedic was sitting like this. I read melancholy in his posture, but it may have just been quietness.
I apologized; he apologized. He said “I almost never talk about my work with anyone outside the profession.” There was a long pause; I took a bunch of pointless snapshots. Then I asked him how he does it, how he approaches his work. He said “Every incident is a puzzle that has to be solved quickly and well.”
He relaxed as I bumbled about and moved him here and there. To the touch, he was remarkably muscular. I kept thinking about the difference in how he and I approach the body. I photograph the body as a complete, exuberant thing of pleasure. And if it’s not going well, I can just end it and send the model away.
When you’ve been in an accident, when you’ve overdosed, when you’ve tried to kill yourself, this is the person who comes and gently tries to save you, to put you back together, to keep you alive. As a man, he’s calm, sure of himself, intelligent, compassionate.
After he left, I sat alone in my office and thought for a very, very long time about him. No amount of money is adequate to repay him for what he does; no amount of gratitude is sufficient. A world without him–and those like him–truly would be unimaginable.
Yours Truly – Paul Morris