A few months ago I was on Facebook and came across something that Jerry Grillo had written about his son, Joe. Jerry is an occasional contributor to Atlanta magazine and is one of those writers I can always count on for ideas that, at least at first blush, seem unconventional. In the past two years, he’s written a story about the influence of German nationals on the cultural fabric of Atlanta, a profile of a jazz pianist who’s almost 90, and an essay recalling his time as a teenager in the 1970s when he played a Native American in a racist Wild West–themed show at Stone Mountain. See what I mean? Unconventional.
What I came across on Facebook that day was something that he’d never even bothered to pitch to me, or to anyone else. Barely 800 words, it was not so much a love letter to his son, as it was one about him. Joe, his son, is 15 years old and was born with spastic quadriplegia cerebral palsy. What I don’t know about that condition and its implications—not just for people who have it, but for the people who love and care for them—is staggering. Jerry’s essay gave me a glimpse into what Joe’s life is like and the kind of boy and son he is. I wanted to run the piece in the magazine, but it needed more. We needed to see Joe.
Words are one thing, photographs another. In the 25 years I’ve been in journalism, I’ve learned that though a lot of people are willing (grudgingly) to talk to reporters, and maybe even let them tag along for a few days as they go about their lives, letting a photojournalist do the same thing is a different story. Because good photos often require getting up in people’s faces. There’s no nonintrusive way to do it, at least to do it well.
But when I called Jerry, he understood. He’d written his essay pegged to Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month, and knew his words could reach even further if he opened up his and his family’s life to a photographer. I called one of my former colleagues and good friends Matt Moyer, who has photographed people around the world for National Geographic and who can find relatable human moments no matter the subject.
The resulting feature is here. It’s a simple story, really—about two parents and their love for their son. But I think you’ll come away from it learning so much more.
This article originally appeared in our November 2016 issue.