How my photo a day challenge turned into a campaign

Mason at his home in Salem, Kentucky

At the beginning of this year, my classmates and I were issued with a challenge by Carrie Brown, the head of our Social Journalism program at the CUNY J-School. Carrie asked us to take one photo every single day and to document our progress using the hashtag #cunysj16 on Instagram. There were no strict rules or requirements for the subjects of our photos — the only guideline was to take one photo each day and to see what would come of it.

First photo in my photo a day series

Initially, I started posting what every other person my age is posting — my Starbucks coffee, artsy views from my window, and the occasional thumbs up selfie. But then I had an idea. I had just been back to my hometown of Salem, Kentucky for Christmas and while there was able to hear about the progress of my sweet cousin Mason. Mason is currently in 6th grade, but has spent much of his life learning from home due to having NEMO deficiency syndrome.

NEMO deficiency syndrome is a complex disease caused by genetic mutations that most often leads to a susceptibility to certain bacterial infections that can be severe and affect virtually any part of the body. For Mason, this has left him indoors and in and out of hospital rooms since he was in 2nd grade. Mason has done most of his schooling from home with the help of a homebound instructor, only leaving his home for testing and appointments at various hospitals in the area. When my family gathered for our traditional Christmas Eve dinner this past December, we could only FaceTime with Mason as the risk of him catching a cold or virus was too much for him to attend.

I’ve always felt lucky to live in this crazy, fast, beautiful place that we call New York City, and when challenged to take a photo each day I realized that I could capture a sense of this place for someone else. After about five or six days into the challenge, I decided to post a photo of Mason with the hashtag #photosformason. My initial goal was to take photos of the sights and sounds of New York City for him while raising awareness for NEMO deficiency syndrome.

Photo 3 of #photosformason

Although I have managed to accomplish both of those things, what I was not expecting was the amount of participation I would receive from so many people who want to share their experiences with Mason. People from as close as Washington, DC to as far as Mexico and Belize have shared their photos on behalf of Mason, and all of a sudden this photo a day assignment turned into something much, much bigger.

Roberto (from Mexico) and his students spreading some love for Mason!

Since I’ve started #photosformason, I’ve realized that my own perspective of what surrounds me has changed. I am no longer taking in the sights and sounds of this city as a local who just wants to get on and off the subway before rush hour (although that is sometimes how I feel), but instead I am looking closely at parts of this city through a new set of eyes. Through the eyes of seeing it all for the first time over and over, and finding the magic that comes from viewing the city through that lens. As of today, I have posted over 100 photos for Mason. And that’s just the beginning.

Got some smiles from the firefighters at Engine 54 for Mason

If you’re interested in sharing some of your photos for Mason, it’s easy — just use the hashtag #photosformason and you’re all set! Mason is also in the process of seeking a bone marrow match, which would dramatically improve his health and quality of life. To join the bone marrow registry, click here: https://bethematch.org/.