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PPD Spotlight: Showing the Heart Behind the Parapan Am Games

By David Schonauer   Monday July 20, 2015


The spirit of competition is alive and well in Toronto.

The 2015 Pan Am Games, featuring Olympic athletes from the Americas, is now underway in Canada, and in August Toronto will host the Parapan Am Games, a multi-sport event for athletes with physical disabilities. It was the competitive spirit that the U.S. Olympic Committee wanted to capture when it commissioned Toronto-based photographer Jeremy Kohm to shoot a series of still promotional images of the elite Paralympic athletes who would be taking place in those games. He delivered the pictures, and more.

Kohm, a commercial and editorial photographer, has also transitioned into motion, and once he began working on the portrait project for the USOC, he began seeing the possibility for taking it further.

“I had the idea for a motion spot, and then it just became a matter of seeing if it could be realized. The stills were the priority and the motion was a potential benefit if it could be pulled off,” Kohm says. “The U.S.O.C. understood and was fully supportive and began to figure out how they could capitalize on any media that I might be able to provide.”

Kohm was able to shoot US Paralympic swimmers when they came to compete in an event in March. Before beginning to shoot, he came up with a rough outline for the motion piece and discussed it with a film editor he’d worked with, Monica Remba of the Toronto production studio Married to Giants. “We were both comfortable going into the project knowing that it would have to be a bit of a loose process since both the location, talent and timing were well beyond our control,” he says.


Kohm’s narrative outline took into consideration the tools he would be using: “This helped to determine the overall tone and mood of the piece,” he says. “I went with a gritty and rough look, knowing that my Canon 5D Mark II would be handheld and probably have a high ISO, so I decided to emphasize and accent those decisions. Pulling focus wasn’t an option, so everything was shot quite wide on a Canon 24-70mm lens—that way I could use the separation between me and the subject to go in and out of focus, which would add even more to the somewhat edgy feel.”

While Kohm was shooting a portrait of American Paralympic swimmer Anna Johannes, he realized that he wanted to feature her in the motion piece.“I felt she had a great look and energy,” he says. “After shooting the photograph, I had a second 5D Mark II rigged up with the 50mm lens, and I got the footage I wanted to use at the end of the motion piece—I had her hold a serious game face for about 10 seconds.”

After Johannes swam in an event, Kohm was able to get four or five takes showing her loosening up as she walked through the swimming area..“The key shot was when she brought her arms above her head, which is somewhat misleading to the viewer,” Kohm says.

The shot leads to the reveal that Kohm had outlined earlier. “The idea was to hammer home the point the fierce competition of the Paralympics. These are incredible athletes doing incredible things and it's impressive to see,” he says.

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