Photographer Maddie McGarvey frames her unemployment, much like the pictures she takes, from a variety of angles: Surprise, sadness, and even appreciation.

Just a year into her first "real" job as a staff photographer with the Gannett-owned Burlington Free Press in Vermont, McGarvey became a statistic in the parent company's recent round of layoffs.

"At my paper, there was definitely a 'last one in, first one out' mentality, which was just such a shame, because I really felt like the younger people were adding some passion and excitement to the newsroom," the 22-year-old said in a phone interview.

Reeling from the news that first night, McGarvey sat down with her laptop, looking through photo projects she'd completed for the paper. She had probably viewed those images hundreds of times. But now, the subjects and their stories made her pause and reflect on her own situation. Here, a selection of those photos and her words on finding inspiration within them.

Jenn McNary lifts her son, Austin, toward the pool built in their house. Swimming in the pool is one of the few ways Austin is able to exercise. | Maddie McGarvey

Jenn McNary's two sons, Austin and Max, suffer from Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a fatal condition characterized by muscle degeneration. Tragically, most DMD-sufferers won't make it past their early 20s.

The good news is there's a new drug that shows significant health gains. Unfortunately, only Max, now 11, qualified for the trial program. And so McNary is fighting for Austin, 14, to get the drug that has freed his younger brother from the confines of the wheelchair to run, play, and really live for at least a little while longer.

Austin, foreground, looks around a hospital room as younger brother Max receives his weekly dose of the trial drug for DMD. | Maddie McGarvey

McGarvey began working on the story as a side project, but her newspaper eventually assigned a reporter to write a spread on the family, too. Looking back at the photos, McGarvey says they tugged at her in a way they had not initially.

"I spent so much time with this family and got to know them so well, know their story, feel so much respect for Jenn," McGarvey said. "Here's this mom who's up against the FDA on a regular basis, fighting for her kid who is 14 and has a disease that takes most people by age 20. That puts things in perspective: Things aren't really that bad for me, you know?"

Max sits in a chair as he receives his weekly treatment of the DMD trial drug. | Maddie McGarvey

It's the hallmark of a particularly emotional assignment, McGarvey said, when she finds herself moving out from behind the lens and into the lives of the subjects she's photographing. Sometimes, such as with McNary, it's a process that takes months.


Olivia Reed, left, Nick Jaslowich, and Beverly Hayford honor Logan Newell at a candlelight vigil held in St. Albans, Vt. | Maddie McGarvey

Other times, however, the heart of an assignment is revealed in a single night. Logan Newell, of Georgia, Vt., had been out for a day of snowboarding with friends. Afterward, he got in his car, turned the ignition, and waited for it to heat up. But before he could drive home, two leaks caused the car to fill with carbon monoxide, and Newell died inside from the toxic fumes.

A group of Newell's teachers organized the vigil in nearby St. Albans and hundreds of people showed up to pay their respects to Newell's mother and brother.

Parker Forsyth, 18, puts flowers on the table at the candlelight vigil held for Logan Newell. Forsyth was the last person to see Newell before he died. | Maddie McGarvey

"Words couldn't even explain it at the time," McGarvey said. "There was this kind of enlightened way in which this community came together, not just for the vigil, but to help each other grieve. That's something that made me think a lot about what I was doing, too."


Carmen Tarleton turned to writing and music as a way to heal emotional and physical wounds following an attack by her then-husband. | Maddie McGarvey

Six years ago, Carmon Tarleton's estranged then-husband broke into her home and doused her in industrial grade lye, burning 95 percent of her body. She was beaten and permanently disfigured.

And yet Tarleton survived. Her ex-husband received a minimum 30-year prison sentence and Tarleton began the process of moving on. She took up the piano and found love (with her piano teacher Sheldon Stein) in the process.

Tarleton receives a kiss from her new partner — and piano teacher — Sheldon Stein. | Maddie McGarvey

"She's one of the most pleasant people I've ever been around," McGarvey said. "Here's this lovely woman who sings and laughs, and of course she has moments, but she's alive and appreciating everything — especially the little things."


Tony Pomerleau points to a photograph of one of his daughters — now deceased — on her wedding day. | Maddie McGarvey

Tony Pomerleau is known as the "shopping center king of Vermont." Walk through downtown Burlington and you'll notice Pomerleau's name is plastered across building after building.

At 95 years old, he's enjoying life as a bit of a local celebrity. But on the day he talked to McGarvey, he also reflected on his own mortality.

"He showed me his family plot where he has his grave picked out, and where two of his daughters that he lost to cancer are buried," McGarvey said. "He brought us into his home and showed us photos of his family, including portraits of his late daughters."

"It's a beautiful thing to see people open up, and be a little vulnerable, and perhaps share things that they normally wouldn't," she said.

Pomerleau looks around the burial plot he's selected for himself and his family. | Maddie McGarvey

"I came to Burlington last year, not knowing anyone," McGarvey said. "It was tough, but I learned a lot about myself. It forced me to become independent. There's no other job like this, where you get to meet so many amazing people every single day, and take their pictures and have these conversations where they open up to you, and you to them.

"So I'm feeling hopeful," she said. "Some opportunity's probably coming along that I don't even know about yet. And I can't wait to see what that is."

In the meantime, McGarvey is headed to Ohio, where her family lives, but also where a personal project about grandparents raising their children's children awaits. She first started working on it more than a year ago, and she says she's anxious to reunite with the subjects, to whom she had grown close.

** Click here to see more of Maddie McGarvey's work **