KPCC has just started a new monthly project with NPR on Instagram. It’s called Public Square. Each month, we pick a theme. We ask people to tell a story on that theme by posting a picture.
This month’s Public Square theme is ‘hard work.’ We asked people to take a portrait of someone hard at work. Maybe the mechanic who fixes your car, the small-town barber, or the taxi driver who picks you up.
More than 200 pictures came in. And what we found was hard work can mean a lot of things. It can be rewarding and selfless. It can make for some funny stories, and sad ones, too.
Beth Nakamura is a photojournalist at the Oregonian newspaper. In a series of photos, she Instagramed Katie LaRosa, who’s been a motel chambermaid for 34 years.
LaRosa told Nakamura about the first time she accidentally walked in on a couple.
“They thought they left the do not disturb sign on the door knob, when in fact it was the maid service," Nakamura said. "And she just looked at me and smiled and said, ‘Yeah, I think they were pretty mad at me.'"
Before becoming a photojournalist, Beth Nakamura herself was actually a chambermaid when she was just 13.
“It was X-rated, or slightly foul," Nakamura said. "It’s like you’re totally invisible, it’s just sort of them being completely and utterly themselves.”
Nakamura has gone from seeing these stories as a kid, to telling stories now.
“Being a chambermaid actually is great training for visual journalism," she said. "I mean, you walk into a room and there’s little bits of evidence of the lives led of the people who were staying there and you sort of infer a story from that.”
Danielle Abramson took a picture of her mother, Marybeth Abramson, who takes care of a 14-year-old girl named Maddy in Cincinnati:
“My mom always said that nursing is not a job, it’s a calling.”
Maddy has a terminal disease that’s left her basically like a six-month old.
“Maddy can’t speak, Maddy can just look at you," Danielle Abramson said. "My mom goes away on vacation with our family for a couple weeks every year, and whenever she returns, Maddy – you can tell she missed her.”
Maddy has a lot of seizures, and has to take a lot of medication each day.
“She actually has a twin sister who has a similar disorder, so there’s two in the family that will not live much longer," Abramson said. "Last year we didn’t think Maddy was going to make it much longer. But she’s still here with us. Everyday is a blessing.”
Danielle Abramson has a younger sister who has a developmental disability as well.
“Not only does my mom spend her day with Maddy, she comes home and my sister’s there, too," Abramson said. "I think she’s always been a nurse in her heart, but she went back to school to get formal training. She wanted to be a better mother to my sister.”
Thamer Bajjali and Chris Milstead have been best friends since third grade. Milstead delivers newspapers in Garden Grove where they grew up. He does it the middle of the night every Wednesday. Bajjali is a photographer and sometimes he tags along with Milstead to take pictures.
“More than anything it was revisiting where we grew up on a weekly basis," Bajjali said. "I think that part was more important for Chris because he moved out of Garden Grove halfway through seventh grade.”
For almost a decade, the job has been passed down from friend to friend.
“[Chris] was saying that this is a job that he wants to pass down to his future children," Bajjali said. "He’s always joked about keeping it as long as he could.”
Recently the newspaper Chris Milstead delivers was bought by a larger paper, and his contract changed. Milstead decided to stop delivering. So after eight years, he will work his last shift this month. Bajjali titled his pictures of Milstead, “‘The End of an Era."