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Creed Holden uses photography to spread empathy

January 27, 2019
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Creed Holden focuses in with his camera, looking to snap a picture on Adams Street, where he often finds subjects to photograph. (Tammy Shriver/Times West Virginian, via AP)

FAIRMONT, W.Va. (AP) — On a routine walk through the streets of Fairmont, Creed Holden came across a person whose image he wanted to capture.

Armed with a digital camera and the desire to use it, he decided to ask if he could photograph the pedestrian, never having done anything of this nature before.

“I didn’t know how people would react,” Holden said. “I was walking down the street and he was standing there — I didn’t even know him, I was like ‘Can I take your picture?’”

This June 2014 photograph was the first of what would become a series of pictures shared by Holden through Facebook in an effort he put forth for the simple reason of spreading empathy and positivity throughout the city. This image now lives on Holden’s page, “Humans of Fairmont,” where he documents the City of Fairmont through the people living within it.

“Everyone is interesting,” he said. “I just walk around Fairmont and I take street photography basically; although I do interview people a lot.

“I just thought that I would go and take pictures of people on the street and get a little insight into their lives, and just share that with people.”

A resident of Marion County since 1976, Holden first came to Fairmont to attend college at Fairmont State College, where he would earn a degree in graphic design and in fine arts. This education would lead him to jobs and careers in the visual medium, which his start may not have immediately suggested.

“I had to take photography in college, back in the old days when you had to do it all by hand. I got a ‘D,’” Holden said. “I don’t know why I got a D. Back then it was expensive, I was a country boy, I couldn’t afford a fancy schmancy camera. I did like the minimum requirement because it was all I could afford.”

Despite this rough beginning, which he said was due to his lack of funds for camera supplies, Holden first got into technology jobs where he provided design and support for company websites. This being in the early days of computers and the internet itself, Holden found quick opportunity and ensuing success, with his first gig being with NASA.

“I did the page for the IV&V Facility,” Holden said. “I only had to make one person happy: the director of NASA.”

From there, Holden saw that he could likely get any job in the field since his claim to fame was impressing the director of NASA. He would go on to work for several other companies in design, garnering experience with programs including Photoshop and Facebook.

His experience with social media led him to the discovery of Humans of New York, a photo blog page that documented the people of the city through photographs and usually a quote. The work Holden saw on the page inspired him, as the stories told through simple photographs instilled him with immediate empathy for whoever the subject was.

“I saw that and that inspired me,” Holden said. “I figured ‘Well the people in Fairmont are just as interesting as the people in New York, maybe even more so.’ I wanted to emulate exactly what he was doing basically.”

This combined with his first photography experience was enough to get him hooked on the idea, and Holden has been posting periodically to Humans of Fairmont ever since. His own photos follow a similar template to that of the New York original, with a photo taken of a person usually accompanied by a quote about his or her life Holden obtains through an interview.

“I wanted to show that everybody is really kind of the same,” he said. “What these people are thinking, it’s kind of like what you’re thinking; their experiences in life are what you have experienced. You can empathize with that.”

Having done a few years worth of pictures so far, Holden’s page has pictures of city and county officials, local athletes, musicians and residents whom he often captures candidly. He remembered a photo he took at a First Friday event in Veterans Square, which ended up being one of his favorites.

“They had this little girl and her mom — Indian — in their traditional clothing, and she was doing traditional dances,” Holden recalled. “It was really pretty and they were having so much fun, the little girl and her mom. And she was really interesting to talk to, the little girl. That was very fascinating to me.”

Browsing through some of his favorite photos, Holden also looked at the insights of the Humans page, showing it has more than 2,000 likes, with page viewers coming from across the country and even other countries.

“People love it and people talk to me about it,” he said. “I have people from all over the world actually.”

But Holden doesn’t do it for the recognition as he is “just a guy with a camera.” Rather, he hopes to impact West Virginia through the photos he shares and show Fairmont in a more positive light.

“When I thought about it, I was seeing all this negative stuff about Fairmont on these other pages,” Holden said. “I thought ‘You know what, that Humans of Fairmont thing could showcase Fairmont in such a way that I could show the good.’”

Holden’s Humans of Fairmont page can be found on Facebook, through a search of the name.

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Information from: Times West Virginian, http://www.timeswv.com

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