Photographer Brandon Cawood set out to show the world real heroes don’t wear capes — by producing some stunning images of real-life responders (not models) with a little movie moxie mixed in.
Not All Wear Capes is a series of photographs honoring the men and women who risk their lives for our community on a daily basis. The series is a celebration of our communities’ guardian and a memorial to the healers that put us back together when our bodies are broken.
Go behind the scenes in this video:
Cawood is an internationally recognized and published photographer, known for creating very detailed oriented and creative images to aid in branding process for his clients. He specializes in dramatic/cinematic portraiture and larger than life composites.
Here’s a short Q&A about the series.
Tell us about the idea behind the Not All Wear Capes project – where did the idea come from, what motivates the project?
As a really young child I loved Super Heroes. I had tons of action figures and toys and often told people I was going to be a Real Life Batman when I grew up, because lets face it, of all the super heroes, Batman is by far the coolest and most realistic because he could maybe possibly kind of exist in real life haha. I started noticing however, that there were real life heroes. Fire fighters, policemen, and everyone else seemed larger than life! For a short period of time my Dad was a Deputy Sheriff when I was younger.
I can still remember getting to sit in the car and have the lights turned on and the siren sounded. My dad kept all is old gear in a storage shed in the back yard and I would go inside to put on his bulletproof vest and his gun belt (no gun in it obviously). My passion for heroes followed me into my adulthood and once I started getting into photography I developed a huge love for movie posters, especially the ones for all of the Super Hero movies that have come out as of late. As I sought out advice from successful photographers, they all brought up the importance of doing personal projects.
I attended a workshop in Brooklyn, NY where the photographer expressed that personal projects allow you to showcase the type of photography you WANT to be shooting verses only having commissioned work to show. I started toying around with the idea of taking local public safety, law enforcement, and first responder personnel and creating a series of “larger than life-movie poster” style images. I toyed with the idea for a while and finally decided to pull the trigger on the project around July of 2013.
The project focuses on your locality in Dalton, Georgia – what’s the local reaction been to Not All Wear Capes?
The community support for the project was one of the driving forces of the whole thing, especially the actual community of public safety, police, fire, and first responder personnel and families. This group of people, at least where I’m from, had never been showcased in this way before and it meant a lot to them. I got to see the other side of everything that goes into keeping our community safe.
I also got some amazing support from the GA State Patrol SWAT team who basically said to me, what ever you need just let us know. After our shoot with them, Whitney and I got to shoot fully automatic rifles at the shooting range where we did the shoot. That photo shoot alone made the whole project worth it! I feel like I made a connection with everyone in the series. Almost everyone in it came out to the gallery showing to show his or her support. Maybe next time I get pulled over I’ll have a slightly better chance of leaving with a warning instead of a ticket, haha.
Are the people used in the images models, or are they the people from each profession?
The people in the series are 100% the real deal other than the “bad guys” and people on stretchers. Whitney, my fiancé is actually in two images of the series. She is the hand the fire fighter is grabbing and the woman in the stretcher in the Life Force (helicopter shot). All the “bad guys” where played by some of my friends.
Shooting this series with real people from each profession was a bit of a challenge, but it just took getting everyone comfortable with me and just letting go and having fun, and we ended up with some great images. It only takes a few minutes to ask a person some questions about themselves. When you engage people and come across as genuinely interested in finding out about them, they tend to let their guard down and enjoy themselves. This wasn’t a challenge at all because I was actually interested in finding out about them and how everything worked.
How did you go about arranging the shoots, were there any issues getting access?
The series almost never happened. I thought it would be best to at least try to follow the proper chain to shoot with these people. Over the coarse of about a month I ended up in an on going email back and forth which was basically giving me the run around. This takes me back to my childhood again. See I have this way of thinking that never allows me to give up. Once I set my mind to something, I’m determined to make it happen, and that’s what I’m going to do.
I was getting nowhere with the emails and just decided to reach out on social media. I already had my fire fighter shot planned out so I just posted asking if there were any of my friends who were firefighters who wanted to be in a shoot. I got a message from a girl named Stephanie I had worked with as a teenager. She told me she was an EMT and her fiancé was a fire fighter. I asked if she thought he’d be up to . She told me she would convince him.
I asked if she wanted to be in the series as well for an EMS shot and she agreed! Her fiancé agreed too, but I didn’t really have anything to show him to make him understand what I was doing other than a simple drawing I had sketched up because he was the first shot. So I get there and start pulling out all my light gear and telling him he’s going to be laying in the back of my truck so I can shoot from below ground level (it was going to be a composite) and for a little bit I think he was concerned with what he had agreed to do lol.
As we’re doing the shoot, other fire fighters are coming out and giving him a hard time calling him a model and just really messing with him. It was fun, but I knew I had to do this image right or no one would take the project seriously. Once I ended up bring the final image back to the station to show him, the other guys didn’t have too much to say. I think they secretly wished they had done it, haha.
After I had the first image to show people it got easier and easier to get them to volunteer. Towards the beginning of the project Stephanie also reached out to a K-9 police officer that basically told her he didn’t have time to do it. I ended up starting a like page on Facebook for the project and created a video for it, and decide to message him my self . He responded saying after viewing the video and seeing what the project was about that he would be honored to be a part of it. After the launch of the Facebook page I actually had departments contact me to be a part of it.
Were any of the shoots interrupted by a real life emergency? If so, what happened?
Most of the shoots were done off duty, but there were a couple in which we had to use vehicles that we had to do on duty. There was an understanding that if a call came in they would have to leave and there would be no definite time they would be back. Luckily all the shoots went smoothly with no interruption except for the second one, the EMS shoot.
It was a really gloomy rainy day. For some reason I had envisioned the image in my head to have rain in it anyways so that didn’t bother me too much. We arrived and got all the equipment out and had a break in the rain. We pulled the ambulance in place I got all my lights set up, even ones inside the ambulance.
I fired off a couple of test shots while I was getting everyone arranged and all of a sudden the call came over the radio. I had to very quickly remove all the cords and lights and in less than a minute they were gone. Whitney, who was filming for BTS stuff, and I ended up having to wait over an hour for them to get back and start over. It turned out great and made for a great story.
What else would you like to shoot following the Not All Wear Capes theme if given the chance?
Well I have decided to do at least one more segment of Not All Wear Capes. The next one will be military based. I unintentionally put myself in somewhat of a niche with this project without even meaning to.