Ode to a photographer: Jennifer Foster

As Adam Belmar and I were taping our 80th episode this week, I mentioned a photo that I promised to put online.

The story caught my eye this past Wednesday morning as I was scanning the New York Times over coffee. I’m always on the lookout for news stories that are worth reading aloud to my kids, ages 8 and 5. My son is a big fan of the NYPD and this one fit perfectly. It involved an officer named Lawrence DePrimo from our own Sixth Precinct in Greenwich Village.

As with so many stories involving unique photos taken by non-professionals that morph into viral images, this picture was taken on November 14, two weeks before The Times‘ David Goodman got it into print. If there is a young person in your life that could benefit from a lesson in values, community and citizenship, you might read this story aloud to him or her and spend some time talking about it.

Jennifer Foster's photo of NYPD Officer Lawrence DePrimo and a homeless man in Times Square, Nov 14, 2012

Jennifer Foster, a tourist from Arizona who works for the Pinal County Sheriff’s Department back home, was walking through Times Square when she happened upon the scene of Officer DePrimo fitting a homeless man with a new pair of boots purchased at his expense from a nearby Sketchers store. She told The Times’ Goodman that the scene reminded her of her father, a 32-year veteran of the Phoenix Police Department, whom she recalled buying food for a homeless man.

When I read the story, it noted that the photo had received 275,000 “likes” on Facebook. As I write this post, a little over two days later, the tally is up to 521,000 “likes,” 190,000 “shares” and 40,000 comments. The power of one photo, taken by an amateur with a smartphone camera, to bring half a million people together around a heartwarming story.

The incident reminded me of a different story with a very different outcome that I wrote about on Polioptics a long time ago. The story took place on April 5, 1976, when I was ten years old. It involved a black lawyer in Boston named Ted Landsmark who was assaulted by Joseph Rakes with an American Flag near City Hall Plaza. A Boston Herald photographer, Stanley Forman, captured the image because he happened to be in the right place at the right time and, as a result, won the Pulitzer Prize for photography that year.

On November 14, and back in 1976, Jennifer Foster and Stanley Forman didn’t begin their day intending to capture an enduring moment through their lens. Foster was just enjoying New York on a visit far from home. Forman was in the process of buying an apple for his girlfriend. Then, something happened that caught their eye. Forman had a newspaper to publish his work. Foster had the NYPD Facebook page. In both cases, many eyes were opened wide as a result.

We’ve been very privileged to have some of the world’s best photojournalists as guests of Polioptics, including Pete Souza, Diana Walker, Doug Mills, Charlie Dharapak and David Hume Kennerley. Their job is to always keep their cameras at the ready, documenting newsworthy events both tragic and triumphant as they happen, and sharing them with readers around the world. As we enter the heart of the holiday season, we thank them for their continued great work, and add a special place among their ranks for a tourist with a cellphone named Jennifer Foster.


Leave a Reply