ryan scherb – emt

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Ryan Scherb


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Emergency Medical Technicians are the men and women responsible for keeping you alive from the time you get hurt, to the time you get to the hospital.  They have to be able to deal with any and every possible situation where someone’s health and survival has become compromised.

It is an experience that holds the widest range of situations, circumstances and emotions.  One day they will celebrate with a family delivering a newborn child, and the next they will help a grieving widow who has just watched her husband pass away.  Emergency caregivers see it all.

While an EMT is well trained in the necessary skills to keep a person alive, the real training starts when they get in the ambulance and head to the call, where they know little if anything about what they will encounter.

It is important to recognize EMTs for the service they provide.  Without them, countless lives would be lost in the time it takes to get to a hospital.

This essay joins the Charlottesville Albemarle Rescue Squad (C.A.R.S.) in Charlottesville, Virginia as they go on calls.  It was shot over three days in June 2008 and three more days in June 2009 as an assignment for David Alan Harvey’s workshop, “The Photographic Essay”.  “EMT” has become a larger project now and I am currently riding in New York City with the St. Vincent’s Hospital ambulance squad.  After New York I will keep working on the project in the cities of Miami, Chicago and Los Angeles. This essay has not yet been published, as it is a work in progress.



Ryan Scherb is currently working as a fashion and advertising photographer in New York City and is expanding into the world of documentary.  Ryan also has a background as an EMT in Connecticut where he has ridden with the Georgetown Volunteer Fire Department.


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Ryan Scherb


Editor’s Note: Please only one comment per person under this essay.. Further discussions should take place under Dialogue..

Many thanks… david alan harvey

27 Responses to “ryan scherb – emt”

  • not bad. for what it’s worth, i found the less predictable images more evocative – 5, 13, 15, 16 – where a bit more strange, and thus interesting… many of the other shots i felt like i had seen before.

  • An often told story. Good technically, but ambulance chasing is simply too overdone. If you are going to do it, go for emotion. This seems too detached and unemotional.

    I’ve shot a lot of these photos over the years as a PJ. But it’s hard to convey the experience of being there in a photo. The screams of the injured, the flashing lights at midnight from a dozen police cars and ambulances.

    Too cliche. Too clean.

  • JIM..

    as you know, i am ready to publish your more emotional, less cliched, photographs…since you have been doing it for years and Ryan did this work in 6 days, i am sure your work would knock our socks off…

    cheers, david

  • Hmmm Lets see if I can do this and ignore Jim’s comment at the same time… Oh too late.


    Nicely done. My suggestion would be to edit it a bit tighter. Too many inside the ambulance shots and paramedics hovering over patients shots. I think I would drop 5,6,7 and 13 but it is hard to make that decision in slideshow format. I would be more sure if I saw them all laid out.

    Good work! Email me when you get the chance.

    I think Jim’s comments are beginning to border on the cliché.

  • Stupid Photographer

    Should I hold my stupid breath for Jim’s masterpieces? Probably not. Excellent work. A true pro at work, feeling, seeing, giving us the most important substances of the witnessed situations. Bravo!

  • I admire this essay tremendously. I’ll never understand how Ryan managed to place himself right in the middle of the action without getting in the way. Perhaps because he was an EMT himself. Cliche? Hardly. That is unless life and death are cliches. No, Ryan has not gone after the garish, gory, sensational. Instead he’s stayed true to the day-to-day situations encountered by EMTs around the country. And his camera always respects the persons innvolved, both the EMTs and the people they are helping.

    If you look at the LOOK3 workshop slideshow from last year, you’ll see Ryan’s 2008 essay on Charlottesville’s EMT. And now he’s working in NYC. I see an excellent book in the making, one that celebrates some of our society’s unsung heroes. Bravo, Ryan!


  • When I saw this essay I couldn’t help but think of the Dutch photographer Willem Poelstra (http://www.willempoelstra.nl/) who spent 4 years with the Dutch emergency services in Amsterdam to document their work, but especially (and I am quoting from his website) “the desperate and lonely people the ambulance is confronted with and are hidden from the public eye. Other then accidents this is also part of their work and often very sad situations”. His work is pretty confrontational and raw (follow the link ‘112 Amsterdam’ on his website). It is probably not fair comparing his work to yours, but for me inevitable as it is a similar topic. I think there are strong images in this essay (e.g the ones Ben mentioned). It will be interesting to see how you evolve the topic now you have turned this into a longer term project.

    PS: I am a long-time lurker on this forum, but never really contributed to the discussions before.

  • Ryan, great photography and with time your stash of over the top keepers is going to be amazing I know. And major congratulations getting past HIPPA to get these. Jim does have a point when he says it is difficult to experience the energy of being in these situations through images alone … please get a good digital recorder for ambient sound … and perhaps ultimately for narration by the EMT’s themselves. I have had many, many memorable discussions at 1 a.m. in the firehouse about life, love, tragedy and death (and beer too). Since many (most?) EMTs are also trained firefighters, or divers, or surf rescuers, or … then they also risk their lives, and sometimes give their lives, in a wide range of situations. Combine all of this and … I’m waiting for you to knock our socks off … but please, show us here first :))))

  • For me this is one of the best docu shoots i’ve seen. Interesting that your background is in ad’s and fashion, somehow the execution of this work appeals to me greatly, maybe something to do with its lack of journalistic convention (wide distortion, over dubbed contrast, grain, 135, etc). Non-sensational almost classical composition that leaves little trace of the photographer and his immeadiacy/involvement (non heroic, no spectacle, no senseless drama). Yasujiro Ozu in its stillness of perception.
    Well those are my fist impressions.

    Jim have you seen Shakira’s new video?

  • Really well done. I specially like 1,3 (love the reflection), 9,12 (love this one),16.

  • I’m so happy to see this published here, Ryan! I can’t even imagine the awesome photographs you must be making in NYC w/ their EMTs. I am so glad for you and this work that you’ve accomplished…time will yield nothing but omnipotence for you. Bravo!

  • I like this body of work! that’s an important story to be told!

  • there’s no gory, there are no tears, but six days would probably not allow the emt’s to ‘lose it’ in front of a stranger. sorry.

    learning a lot about perspective though. reflected surfaces, etc. but then what do i know?

  • This essay struck me as ‘fresh’. Isn’t that odd? Here we are looking at serious pictures about a serious subject and not talking about the style but the content. (Well except for me perhaps.) To clarify, I am referring exactly to what Nathanial talks about. The “odd” thing about it is, I can’t detect what is original about the pictures. They are so straight. This is not a criticism. I am just saying that it must strike me as fresh because so many photographers these days are imposing their impressions onto the scene or using techniques that cry out for attention. I don’t mean to say that that is invalid either – although sometimes it seems to be gratuitous.

    This essay takes me back to the wonderful essay by W. Eugene Smith The Country Doctor. And I love the first shot here.

    I don’t think you need a sound track, though I am sure it would be interesting. I wonder if adding a sound track would just point up the limitations of the medium of photography. Not that adding a sound track would be a problem for me. I have enjoyed all the essays I’ve seen that have used them. Here you can try to imagine the sound track of Nick Cage and have the soundtrack of silence. (Again I can’t remember the name of the composition).

    Thanks Burn for providing us with this wonderful opportunity to see current work from all over the world so easily. And to comment. I enjoy reading the comments of others and the opportunity to put in my two bobs worth as well of course.

  • i think you have a good eye to be able to compose these images in such circumstances.. so well done…i personally wouldn’t leave any out finding each image in itself different and interesting not only for there composition but also for the most crucial element, the moment..

  • john Stratoudakis

    Very sensitive issue. Good work

  • I’m getting filled with positivity here. These are the good guys in work. Beautiful.

    I don’t say this very often, but I think it’s too short. I feel an urge to see more from this. I like #11 where my eyes strive to see who’s behind the window in the crashed car. Dramatic.

  • great job getting into the position to take these shots. your past experience has really helped in this essay, letting you get right in about it. it seems to focus more on the experience of the EMT rather than the patients, and that makes sense given the title of the essay and your own history. so i don’t agree with the calls to make it more involved with the screaming etc. some really nice compositions too.

    this is from only 6 days, if i understand correctly, but i would love to see the work after 6 weeks or 6 months. i know financing such a sojourn is probably out of reach (it certainly is for me) but you have the potential to make something really great from this. you clearly know about the job, the good, the bad, the ugly etc and that knowledge could help make your essay rise above other similair ones. you’re not some jaded photographer on assignment, you’ve seen this situation with your own eyes and want to take your camera to capture it. that is a powerful motive.

    congrats on getting published on burn, thoroughly deserved

  • It’s good, but… Somehow, I think, with this subject matter and approach it is very difficult to go beyond a pure reportage-documentary. Moreover, I believe, that a proper combination of two mediums( photo+audio) would strengthen impact of this essay on the spectator a lot. Sometimes photography alone isn’t the best and most powerfull medium to speak about the subject. It would be very interesting to see if or how this project will evolve. Good start indeed. However, there is nothing to say WOW! about, at least at the moment. On the other hand, it gave me some thoughts about my own photography and I have learned something as well… and that isn’t so little… Ryan, I wish you the best in your photography, you have a lot of potential.

    Best wishes to everybody from Vilnius :))

  • AndreaC, you wrote “The “odd” thing about it is, I can’t detect what is original about the pictures. They are so straight. This is not a criticism. I am just saying that it must strike me as fresh because so many photographers these days are imposing their impressions onto the scene or using techniques that cry out for attention. I don’t mean to say that that is invalid either – although sometimes it seems to be gratuitous.”

    I’m right there with you Andrea. Straight photography that communicates well and does the job without the photographers ego getting in the way. When the content is eclipsed by technique, we have a problem.

    Ryan, this is extremely well done stuff. Congratulations.

  • These images are real, and they are beautiful. I was an emergency room nurse many years ago in a big city hospital for a short time–the times change but the stories are the same. Your access was pretty amazing as well as the being there without your presence being felt. The strange thing is that the appeal for me is in the beauty of the images rather than the story they tell–real but somehow “other worldly” at the same time.

  • great job at getting access to, and making excellent images in, tough situations. looking forward to seeing more.
    i bet you have many interesting stories from the road.

    good luck!

  • Numbers 5 and 11 talk to me quite a bit. But I feel like something is not catching or it’s not talking to me very much. Maybe the fact that the story doesn’t bring me to FEEL these photos. The subject is well chosen, you’re there, in the middle of the action.I appreciate that… but I don’t feel like this essay is really getting through to me.

    Good work putting it together though, and congrats on being published here!

  • I really enjoyed looking at these photographs! you can see the photographer really thinks about whats in his frame! the composition’s are super clean! very well done. There may have been stories like this done in the past but that does not mean there’s no room for a fresh look!!!

  • A bit deja vu. I think you would/will have to get a bit beyond the basic onlooking nature of these images to reach a bigger audience, though as an internal, or conference document within EMT and rescue agencies, it would aptly fit in, IMO.

    What is missing most is the sense of urgency behind each situation as it presents itself, as I do not believe you wanted to present their job as daily routine (now, that would really not reach wider audiences), but on the contrary showing they operate within what are disruptive conditions for most involved. Color could be a great help in transferring that to the viewer

    Much psychology is missing from your shots, each is doing its job aptly, victims are as much dummies as real people, we have little curiosity for anyone inside the frame because we only see the function,, and somehow, even if difficult to capture, you should try to bring out for us a sense of why these people are doing this job.

    Not that it has to, but maybe you knowing the job was actually playing against you. We could think on many pictures that you are wearing the EMT uniform and working with the other rescuers, limiting therefore your perimeter of action as a photographer.

    Despite what Patricia says, there could be a problem of “sensitivity” relating to showing publicly people suffering/dying, moments whose family might not wish to see appear on the ubiquitous net.

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