by Eric Ginsburg
An initiative to market Greensboro draws in star photographers and a local PR firm to highlight interesting residents — impressive millennials in particular — for a weekly “Made in Greensboro” series.
History will record Jerry Wolford as a legendary Greensboro photographer, but the 50-year old who has six 2015 photographer of the year awards and an exhibit at the city’s historical museum under his belt still experiences impostor’s syndrome.
As he climbed a stairwell at the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering in east Greensboro last week, preparing for his second photo shoot of the day, Wolford freely admitted his insecurity.
At the beginning of this month, the private economic development group Action Greensboro publicly launched its “Made in Greensboro” series, focusing on intriguing locals as a way to celebrate the creatives who make the city great. Wolford and Scott Muthersbaugh of Perfecta Visuals, who are supplying the portraits for the series, felt like the first two profiles were stellar. And the streak continued — they were on a roll, Wolford said — and now he’s just waiting for the “dagger in the heart” feeling if one doesn’t reach the same threshold.
This from the National Press Photographers Association’s 2015 Photojournalist of the Year for smaller markets.
It’s a high-pressure situation of Wolford and Muthersbaugh’s own making, but as they arranged a tiny room stuffed with expensive microscopes for a quick turnaround shoot with Priyanka Ruparelia, their subject was the only one who appeared nervous. The photographers’ controlled adrenaline and jovial banter seemed to belie Wolford’s fears.
Wolford joined Muthersbaugh earlier this year after leaving the Greensboro News & Record and a decades-long career as a photojournalist. But the two guys are well attuned to each other, with Muthersbaugh joking about keeping Wolford in check.
“My job is basically to make sure he breaks as few things as possible,” Muthersbaugh said as Wolford positioned a microscope. “It’s never nothing.”
Carolyn Kuzmin, a communications manager at PR firm RLF Communications who would later write the accompanying profile of Ruparelia observed from a chair pushed into a corner of the small room, trying to stay out of the way in the limited space. With lights clipped to shelves, Wolford positioned a computer monitor near the edge of a desk behind his subject. The screen displayed a microscopic shot of Ruparelia’s research that looked like blue Christmas lights affixed to green smoke plumes, and Wolford made her sit uncomfortably close to another microscope in front of her.
“Can you kinda leeeeeeean, that’s good, chin up, sit up nice and tall like you own this place,” Wolford said.
Muthersbaugh stood beside him, holding a giant open umbrella like Mary Poppins to block fluorescent light pouring in from a window to the school’s hallway. In the other hand, Muthersbaugh reached above his head with a light to try and keep Wolford’s photograph properly lit.
But Ruparelia needed to be higher, and her stool wouldn’t adjust, so Wolford grabbed his coat from the hallway and asked her to perch atop it before prodding her to lean in even farther.
The pair had less than an hour reserved in the cramped space, which they said was no less chaotic than any of the other shoots in the series, and once they got the shot they’d stage a few more in the building with Ruparelia.
“There’s some reality show component to this,” Muthersbaugh said.
As Wolford continued tweaking the shot, Muthersbaugh asked Kuzmin to hold the light he’d been aiming at Ruparelia’s face.
“I never knew photography would take so much,” Ruparelia said, laughing at Muthersbaugh and Wolford’s cheesy jokes aimed at eliciting a smile. At one point she bowed her head in slight embarrassment at having four people focused on her and the awkward positioning of the photo.
“It’s getting hot in here,” she said.
Photo shoots like this one, and another earlier that day at Hudson’s Hill, aim to elevate the stories of people who represent “the multi-dimensional aspects of what makes Greensboro an interesting place,” Action Greensboro Executive Director Cecelia Thompson said. The city has struggled with its brand, but by focusing on individuals, Thompson said the city “can really showcase what a great community” Greensboro is.
Millennials like Ruparelia often don’t receive much spotlight, but if the city wants to create a more robust, young and creative workforce and also instill community pride, this “Made in Greensboro” series is one way to do that, Thompson said. Plus, millennials identify a city through looking at their peers, and by promoting the “great and smart people” in that cohort, the city can change the perception of the city long term, she said.
Someone like Ruparelia, who is trying to find a faster way to heal bones using natural polymers, seems like a natural choice. As does 35-year old Justin Smith, who started the lighted Christmas balls phenomenon in Sunset Hills as a teenager, according to madeingso.com, the initiative’s website, or 19-year-old aspiring surgeon Latifa Aboeid.
Made in Greensboro has already featured a chef, inventor, permaculture expert, aspiring Olympian and more. And Ruparelia, a dancer and a few others are already in the pipeline. The project’s website also allows people to nominate locals to profile. Kuzmin and other RLF Communications’ employees take turns writing the features while Muthersbaugh and Wolford hold down the photographs for the heavily visual project. With any luck, the upcoming photo shoots won’t let Wolford down.
But as his own worst critic, that seems unlikely, especially considering the effort the pair applies to assembling every minor detail for a shot to come together.
“We build photos like you build a house, in steps,” Wolford said, later adding: “I guess we like to build a little bit of an illusion. I hadn’t thought about that.
“Are we magicians?” he asked Muthersbaugh.
“That might be overselling it a little bit,” his counterpart replied quickly from the adjacent room.