New Orleans entrepreneur commemorates Joplin tornado with global photography project

They say a photo is worth a thousand words.  As a writer, I know that a thousand words is hardly enough sometimes. Really, it’s just about two and a half pages, single-spaced, size 12 Cambria font. However, a photo that expresses complexity and emotions of survival, recovery, pain, relief, loss, and reflection using very few words is worth a lifetime of words – an undefined number of words.

Bradley German hold his six year old son, Brody, in front of St. John’s Hospital where his son survives severe injuries.

One year ago today, the residents of Joplin, Missouri, were struck by a catastrophic tornado and left with the devastation that many of us from New Orleans are far too familiar with. Now, one of our own — entrepreneur, philanthropist, and photographer Robert Fogarty – has helped the survivors of Joplin heal and remember that day with his global photography endeavor, Dear World.

Fogarty’s project “Dear World, from Joplin with Love” tells the story of the Joplin tornado through the perspectives of several survivors, volunteers, and city officials in a powerful set of portraits taken almost a year after the disaster. Conveying unique moments of reflection, self-expression meets storytelling as each photograph depicts the subject’s particular experience with honest and heartfelt messages written on an appropriate part of his or her body in black sharpie.

While we might all be familiar with Dear World’s precursor, Dear New Orleans, participants of the Joplin project weren’t jumping in front of a black studio-style backdrop in anticipation of writing a football-inspired pun to the Who Dat nation across their bodies. Many of the photographs were taken at actual disaster sites, capturing the emotional moments of those who were returning to the scene for the first time in a year.

“The portraits here in New Orleans became such a rallying cry for self expression, so I wanted to do this with other communities that have gone through similar struggles and devastation,” says Fogarty.

In one image, a father holds his 6-year-old son Brody in the foreground with a blurred hospital behind them. Pressed up against his father’s chest, Brody shows off an impressive scar on his neck and spine with the words “SURVIVED” written underneath, as his father looks defiantly into the camera as if to say, ”you didn’t get us.” Along with the copy supporting the image, their portrait tells the story of Brody’s survival, youthful spirit, and family bond.

In another image, a man stands behind a black backdrop for a portrait that was taken at the Spiva Center for the Arts in Joplin, where 150 other members of the Joplin community sat for their portraits a month ago, with 50 of those images currently on display at the tornado’s commemorative exhibit.  Mark Norton holds his hands together over his heart with the words “Willdabeast, love you forever” written across his arms in memory of his son Will, who died after being thrown out of the car on his way home from his high school graduation. His story, however, is one of hope, inspiration, and the legacy he leaves behind, including a scholarship that was dedicated in memory his life by Chapman University.

New Orleans resident and founder of Dear World Robert Fogarty spoke at the opening for “Dear World, from Joplin with Love” at the Spiva Center for the Arts in Joplin, MO.

Fogarty’s photos are the second part of a two-phase exhibit at Spiva. His collection is a heartwarming and inspiring follow-up to an emotional gallery comprised of blown-up photos that were taken by the Joplin Globe moments after the tornado struck, as well as installations that include tapes from first responders, photographs, and recovered keepsakes from residents affected by the storm.

“The Dear World exhibit has really helped people meditate and re-energize,” said Spiva Center for the Arts director Lori Marble of the reactions from the opening weekend. “There were tears and laughter throughout the entire exhibit, and people came out mesmerized by specific portraits that really spoke to them.”

Marble also says that the viewers as well as the participants of the Dear World photographs have been very appreciative to Fogarty for giving them a creative platform to share and express their emotions, adding, “Robert is so vibrant and super connected with the people he photographed. What a gift to be able to define your niche at such a young age.”

The full collection of “Dear World, from Joplin with Love” photographs are being released online today with the launch of the official Dear World website, and on display at the Spiva Center for the Arts in Joplin, Missouri through Friday, July 13th.

Catch Robert Fogarty, founder of, Dear New Orleans, and Dear World, this morning on CNN’s Starting Point with Soledad O’Brien.