Craig Fugate is the man redeeming the disgraced federal agency that is FEMA. We’ve come a long way from the notorious “heckuva job” his predecessor did with Hurricane Katrina. America keeps getting slammed with natural disasters and FEMA, rid of its cronies, steps up to the plate with determination each time.
After my father retired from a long career with the Coast Guard, he took a part-time gig with FEMA. He’s a disaster logistics specialist, so when mayhem descended upon the good citizens of America, he was exactly the kind of person you’d want helping to pick up the pieces. He assisted FEMA with a hurricane or two, and after September 11th, was one of the very first people on the very first flights to NYC where he did what he could. My father was very proud of his work with FEMA and he wore his FEMA hat as often as his Coast Guard hat. After Katrina, he couldn’t wear his FEMA hat anymore. Because of this, I was more disappointed than most to see how the agency had fallen. It’s not a glamorous agency like the FBI or CIA, but it’s at least as important as either. The country deserves the best disaster management agency it can get, because we’re unlikely to get a break from the mayhem anytime soon.
Mr. Fugate does not like to be photographed. He’s a true public servant who very obviously prefers to work behind the scenes. He came to DC from Florida, where he was Director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management. This is a fact that turned out to be the key to the entire shoot. When I started photographing him, he was as stiff and uncomfortable a subject as I’ve ever had. It was clear he was just HATING the shoot. I too hate to be photographed, so I do understand when my subjects get like this. My job, of course, is to make them comfortable. My job is to distract them from the abject misery of being photographed. I tried all my usual tactics, asked about his family, how he likes DC, what he likes to do when he’s not thinking about disasters. None of it was working. Then, I remembered the Florida connection. I asked him about Florida, and he practically melted. The man is a real Floridian and he misses it like crazy. Thanks to my seven-month internship at the St. Petersburg Times, I was able to riff with him on all things Sunshine State. When I mentioned that I had photographed Tropical Storm Fay, I got a lesson in how small the world is. Turns out we’d ridden together in the same vehicle with Gov. Christ during a tour of a flooded trailer park.
I really like the portrait that ran with the article (and my God, I love how big it ran) because I deliberately placed him between Florida and an approaching storm on the live-view map. Read the Esquire profile here.