Diane Moca Welcome to Talking Cities from TalkLab. I'm Diane Moca and I'm with Terry Vitacco. Terry is someone who is instrumental in this book coming about because she introduced Scott to somebody critical to this book without even realizing it. And that happened when you were a photography professor at College of DuPage. You're retired now, but you're still a professional photographer, which you've been all these years. And what was it that happened on that fateful day at that class that you were teaching?
Terry Vitacco Well, I invited Scott to come in because he was such a wonderful photographer and did all kinds of long term stories to help my students come up with a final project. And the project that we do every year is photo essay on Easterseal's children. So each student is matched up with a family and they have to follow them for a couple of months to tell the story of what it's like to have a child with a disability. So I thought no better person to talk about a long term story than Scott. So he brought in his whole project, his Common Ground project. And not only that, but things he had shot for the Tribune, all kinds of amazing award winning photos to inspire them and get them all excited about the project. And he started talking about the farm, and how it was sold and how it was going to become a subdivision.
Diane Moca And this was around 2002, in early 2000s. Or maybe 2007.
Terry Vitacco Something like that. Yeah. I don't remember the year.
Diane Moca But this was before the subdivision had even been built.
Terry Vitacco Right. And so one of the students, well, he had come several years in a row, but this particular class he came to, he said, "The farm is now this subdivision." And one of my students in the class, it was photojournalism visual storytelling said, "I live in that subdivision." And her name is Amanda Grabenhofer. So those two got connected, and Scott then went to her home and started photographing herself and her three children, which are triplets, her husband and their daily life.
Diane Moca So he said that originally, he wasn't even sure that there was going to be any photographs or stories beyond the demolition of the farm and the building of the subdivision. And he thought maybe someday, I'll go out to the subdivision and see what it looks like, but he didn't really have any connection there. So you provided this bridge to the next step, almost like fate, that this person happened to be in that class. So at the time did you think, wow, this is some serendipity here.
Terry Vitacco It was. It was amazing. I mean, it was always so generous of him to come to the class and speak to the students. It always inspired them and they always ended up doing much better work after seeing him, and seeing the dedication and the time, and the effort you have to put in to do a long term story. So they became much more serious about finishing their projects, seeing Scott's work. So then the Amanda, of course, became an amazing photographer as well, because not only was she the subject of part of the book, but she also went on to do many great things herself as a photographer.
Diane Moca And now that you've seen the book, and the juxtaposition of the farmers and the farm, and then Amanda and her family and their home, right on that same ground, that common ground. How does it speak to you?
Terry Vitacco It's a beautiful story. I mean, it's very fateful that everybody just got together and it ended up being a wonderful thing for everyone. And documentary.
Diane Moca And he said at the different places where he worked, he brought this project to them and said, "I have this long term project I've been working on. Can I put some of these pictures in the paper?" So it's different being a photographer like you are, doing gallery openings, and traveling around the world versus working for a newspaper on specific assignment. So how do you see that difference in terms of what he had to offer to your students? The perspective that he had as somebody who was on regular photo assignments, as opposed to just going out there as a photographer, looking for something instead of being assigned it?
Terry Vitacco Well, I mean our students in the past, and I think even now hope to become a commercial photographer, like to get clients. So oftentimes, I mean, you can't just go in there with your own project as a new photographer. You have to sell it or have some kind of backing or sponsor. So they would end up getting assignments, corporate assignments. One of my students here tonight is actually a concert photographer who's now also doing real estate photography. So there is somebody assigning whatever it is you're doing. And no matter what the subject matter, you still have to tell the story, whether it's a story of a home, or a subdivision, or a farm, or fashion and beauty, or children with disabilities, you're still having to tell a story. So I think it supersedes, the skills and the talents that you need are useful in all kinds of photography. It's not limited to just newspaper photography or whatever.
Diane Moca And for a photographer to get to the point where they publish a book like this, is that unusual? Is that something that most photographers aspire to do or eventually do? Or is this quite a coup for Scott to have gotten to this level?
Terry Vitacco Well, I'm not surprised at all because he's so talented, but a lot of photographers want to do their own book. And a lot of times, they have to self-publish because it's not an idea that someone else will back. But if you believe in the idea and you keep working on it, it's going to happen. And it obviously happened for him.
Diane Moca And with all these people here, do you think that that idea has resonated with others?
Terry Vitacco Oh, yes. And seeing the diptychs together, seeing the past and the present in those pictures is just amazing.
Diane Moca Do you have a favorite spot in the book?
Terry Vitacco Favorite spot? I really love the ... I just was looking at it in the gallery of, I think it's the cow behind the fence and then the kids through the fence. I can't remember what image it is actually.
Diane Moca I like the part where it said that kids nowadays don't know what a barn is. To them, a barn is just a little puzzle piece that says barn yarn. So they learn how to rhyme. Whereas, and then he shows the picture of the real barn that was right there on the spot where that child's house now exists. So you have to wonder about our roots versus the way things are now. And does it speak to your upbringing in way? Did you grow up in the suburbs or in a rural area?
Terry Vitacco No. I grew up in the city.
Diane Moca In the city?
Terry Vitacco I'm pretty much a city girl. I enjoy looking at farm and landscape pictures, but they're not my thing.
Diane Moca And so when you look through here, what are the feelings that it evokes in you and others that you've shown it to?
Terry Vitacco Well, just the beauty and the simplicity. And I mean, it's very, very hard work. You've got to have great character to be a farmer ,and to put up with all those hardships and take care of all those animals. And they're a rare breed. So I think it's very inspirational. You have to be quite a strong person.
Diane Moca And photographers are a rare breed. Our CEO, Jimmy Allen, you, Terry, Scott, the author and photographer of this book. It's not an easy life to pursue something that you really care about, but it's not a clear path to just go and get a job and then do that.
Terry Vitacco No.
Diane Moca People that might go into a different kind of an engineering or law or something like that. So there must be a lot of love in you for that art.
Terry Vitacco Oh, for sure. I mean, you wouldn't do it if you didn't love it and you have to love it. And it's not only that you love it. It's like you want to do it. You'll look around and you'll say, oh, that's such a great idea. I want to pursue that. Or I want to follow this up. Or I have several other projects to work on. There's always a list. There's always something else that you want to do if you really care about it. And it isn't even like work, like the saying says. If you enjoy what you're doing, it isn't really work. It's what you love to do.
Diane Moca Well, congrats to you for finding that and you and supporting other photographers.
Terry Vitacco Yes.
Diane Moca And what we do here at TalkLab.
Retired Professor Cherishes Introducing Photographer and Student after Book Release
Retired College of Dupage Professor and Photographer, Terry Vitacco, recalls the moment when she introduced her colleague, Scott Strazzante, to one of her students. What followed was a photography book that highlights the similarities between rural farm living and modern suburban life.
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