In The Westport Minuteman

This article was written by Bonnie Adler for The Westport Minuteman

12/03/2009
Westporters’ ‘Legacy Project’ captures essense of loved ones
By:Bonnie Adler , Staff Writer

It’s an old cliché really, but true, that we often take for granted the people we love most in our lives, not realizing how important they can be in shaping our lives, whether they are young or old, blood relative or friend, influential boss or simply a powerful presence at a particular moment in time.

Westporters Suzanne Sheridan, a professional photographer, and Rozanne Gates, an experienced interviewer and theatre professional, have created The Legacy Project, a powerful mix of current technology with old-fashioned heart-pumping love, in an enduring package that combines powerful photographic images with captivating stories, at the core of which lies a beloved person.

“I never sat down and did what I said I would do,” said Gates. “I don’t have the sound of my mother’s voice, and I don’t have her story, or my grandmother’s story. Now it’s too late.”

It is that sentiment that gave Gates the idea to create The Legacy Project with her life partner, Suzanne Sheridan. Simply put, The Legacy Project enables a family or individual to record the human story of their loved one, in his or her own words, accompanied by a collection of moving professional archival quality still photographs, beautifully presented in a professional album.

The final products are a high quality audio CD, a 90-minute digital recording which contains a deeply personal interview conducted by Gates of an individual who tells his or her life story. Sheridan does the photography, capturing images of a subject in her Westport studio or in the subject’s own home, amongst their cherished possessions, or at another locale selected by the family. No matter where the photos are shot, Sheridan says they reveal who that person is, and what is important to them. The 40 photos are contained in a beautiful 8 ½ by 11 inch photo album with 20 magazine quality pages.

“Each book I create is unique, as is each person,” said Sheridan. “You can open any of these books, and by the time you finish you feel like you know the person featured. It’s really an amazing thing. We use high tech equipment to produce a low tech product. The album is on a coffee table. It is tangible. The CD will be around for a long time.”

Gates says that when she interviews her subjects, she often finds that they grow expansive during the interview and blossom. “When I begin, I often don’t know what we will talk about. As the interview progresses, I see an amazing transformation as people tell their stories. They come out feeling 10 years younger just because of the opportunity to tell their own story in their own words. No one gives you an hour to talk about yourself. It has an unbelievable therapeutic value.”

Gates finds it is helpful to have skilled interviewer, rather than a family member gather the information: “It can often be a clearer story if someone else does the interview.”

Gates said she recently interviewed a 93-year-old man who had been having so much trouble speaking he was practically mute. “When we sat down for the interview it was like water on a wilting flower. For 55 minutes he spoke with energy, power and verve. So much information came up. I couldn’t believe it was the same person. When someone has the chance to talk about who they are, it gives them an intense emotional response. It validates them to tell their story and share who they are. They can give that story to their family, told in their own voice and in their own words. It’s very powerful especially in combination with the photographs.”

Sheridan says the photos reflect her belief that each person is unique and distinctly memorable.

“As I shoot, I help the person to relax, and try to get at what is important to them. I try to honor them, to validate their lives.”

However, subjects for The Legacy Project can be of any age. Sheridan said they recently did an eight-year-old’s birthday party. “It was wonderful, full of fun. She will have that for the rest of her life.”

“The Legacy Project can also be a wonderful oral history for entrepreneurs who want to tell their business stories, or for organizations which can explain what they stand for. It is appropriate for anyone who is willing to tell their story,” said Gates.

“The key is the quality. You want to have this as an enduring legacy.”

More information about The Legacy Project is available at www.thelegacyprojectusa.com or on Facebook. Telephone inquiries can be made to 203 557-0408. The basic package is $329 which includes the photo book and audio CD.