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Seeing the world through a lens of compassion

The image on Christopher Briscoe’s Facebook page shows a burned-out hulk of a horse trailer. Behind the stripped trailer stands a solitary brick wall in defiance of the rubble surrounding it.

Briscoe’s friend, Marie, relayed this story: “The two mules made it to safety ... the gate was open because of the wind. Louisa, the owner, went out to get them, came back, her house was on fire ... she lost everything but the clothes on her back, saved her dog and nine of 12 chickens. She lost some other pets in the house. Then she spent that day fighting fires and helping save her neighbors’ houses and their horses.” These are the people stories Briscoe seeks to capture in telling photographs.

“My whole life since I was 18, I have just been passionate about taking people’s pictures,” he said. “I just turned 69, and I am as passionate about my photography now as when I was 18 years old.”

Briscoe had been in my sights for a couple of years now, since my interview with Martin Majkut, conductor of the Rogue Valley Symphony. The photos he and Majkut collaborated on are beyond crazy, in a good way. Ironically, Briscoe got his start in professional photography as a stringer for the Ashland Daily Tidings. That was many years and thousands of snaps ago. But a handful of images I saw on his Facebook page, chronicling our recent losses, told me it was time. I knew he had stories percolating as only he can tell them — through a lens of compassion.

Briscoe is pursuing a project involving the stories behind our hardworking Ashland firefighters. An image of the crew, weary from a 17-hour shift, painstakingly scrubbing down their rolled-out hoses, tells a story of respect for their lifesaving equipment and devotion to their craft.

Another capture from the Almeda fire is of an American flag posting sentry inside a portion of what used to be a Burger King at one of the Ashland I-5 exits.

“I have been pacing back and forth because I have to use my skills in photography to tell this story,” Briscoe said. “And everyone is so consumed by this that people don’t get back with me.” He understands.

Briscoe’s resume is impressive — from Hollywood aristocracy to New Mexican cowboys, to those barely surviving abject poverty. Standing true to his profession, he regards his subjects as equal members of the same club called mankind. He follows the call, from a poolside afternoon in Santa Barbara watching Catherine-Zeta-Jones love on her children, to finding himself in a Cambodian dump a week later.

“I’m in a city dump in Thailand with some refugees who had never seen a picture of themselves. I watched this woman with her kids about the same age as Catherine Zeta-Jones’. I watched them, and I listened to the mom, and I knew that she loved her kids just as much. She wanted her kids to be safe, to have some kind of education, and to be fed. And that’s exactly what Catherine wanted for her kids. So there I was straddling those two hemispheres.” He struggles with the reality of such disparity.

This Thanksgiving he’ll join some friends at Hickory Hill in Georgia. It was once the home of Robert and Ethel Kennedy and before that, John and Jaqueline Kennedy. The man has connections, and he is the furthest thing from a snob.

To view Briscoe’s images and books, visit his website at www.chrisbriscoe.com.

When he asked if my work was visible nationally, I confessed a certain level of trepidation at pursuing a wider platform. I took this quote from his website.

“We all struggle with courage. ... The trick is to constantly challenge yourself, let yourself take a risk, and live your life.” Briscoe serves as the exemplar of his credo, having traveled the world capturing faces and the stories behind them through a lens of compassion.

Peggy Dover is a freelance writer. Reach her at pcdover@hotmail.com.

Photo courtesy of Christopher Briscoe