In July 1988 Bob Haggart learned that he had incurable multiple myeloma - bone marrow cancer. Though doctors said he had only four more years he lived for nine, dying on February 25, 1997.
Haggart, as he was called by everyone including his wife Brenda, inquired about our Artist-in-Residence program last year in order to work on a photographic essay about cancer patients on 7 North, the cancer floor at Crouse-Irving Memorial hospital in Syracuse. At that time Haggart had worked at the Syracuse Newspapers for nearly forty years. For the past 15 years he was a featured columnist for the morning Post-Standard and often used his own photographs to accompany selected columns. Haggart was pretty much free to write what he wanted, and in a voice that ranged from cynical to sympathetic, he chastised the bureaucracies of local government and those privileged by power and money - while offering a sympathetic ear to the struggles of those less heralded and empowered.
His photographs that accompanied his stories were direct and illustrative visual companions to his work as a writer often offering a respectful view of someone who probably never had their picture in a newspaper. When Haggart was making photographs for the newspaper he left most of the processing and printing to the lab, so he was eager to use Light Work's black and white darkroom to work on his 7 North project. Outwardly Haggart treated his own condition as a matter-of-fact inconvenience making it easier for others to support his enthusiasm for the project without having to bear the full emotional burden of realizing that the project was going to involve a man dying of cancer photographing other men and women who were just a little further along in the process of death.
Haggart struggled through the project fighting familiar foes including the hospital bureaucracy, and having his cameras stolen from a room in the hospital that he used to rest and collect his thoughts. Haggart never finished the project the way he wanted. He never felt completely comfortable in the darkroom making black and white prints and many of his notes about particular images are not the polished captions he had envisioned at the start of the project. The sheer determination of Haggart's effort to tell the story of 7 North is the true inspiration and power of his photographic essay, and with a parting gesture of generosity and humility he wrote the following statement to accompany the work.
Life is tentative. Pain, compassion, faith and dignity live day and night on the north wing of the 7th floor at Crouse Hospital in Syracuse. 7 North's beds, nursing staff and doctors are for cancer patients. I have spent many days and nights there fighting my own cancer. I wanted to show it to others and find for myself new strength to fight to stay alive from others as well.
With a grant from Light Work, the non-profit, artist-run photography organization in Syracuse, I spent last September recording life on 7 North with my camera. For two weeks I took 1,080 shots on 30 rolls of black and white film. Nothing was posed. I used only available light. The patients were all strangers. More time was spent in Light Work's darkrooms.
This is a dozen of the best. I owe much to Jeff Hoone, Light Work's chief, and to two of the best black and white film artists around, Tim Reese and Dennis Nett of the Syracuse Newspaper's photo staff. Their suggestions and encouragement kept me going.
The result, I hope, is a small, anecdotal window to what it is like to live and work on 7 North at Crouse and in the cancer wards of other hospitals, nursing homes and hospices.
Jeffrey Hoone 1997
Bob Haggart participated in Light Work's Artist-in-Residence program from September 1-30, 1996. We thank Brenda Haggart for her help in compiling this essay and providing us with Haggart's photographs.