Opinion

They captured the journey of conjoined twins and took us from ones to twos

Aida Sandoval looks at a video produced by Sacramento Bee multimedia photojournalist Manny Crisostomo that documented the day the Sandoval family and friends endured as doctors at Stanford Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital worked for more than 17 hours to successfully separate conjoined twins Eva and Erika Sandoval on Dec. 6 and 7, 2016.
Aida Sandoval looks at a video produced by Sacramento Bee multimedia photojournalist Manny Crisostomo that documented the day the Sandoval family and friends endured as doctors at Stanford Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital worked for more than 17 hours to successfully separate conjoined twins Eva and Erika Sandoval on Dec. 6 and 7, 2016. mcrisostomo@sacbee.com

Sacramento Bee photographer and videographer Manny Crisostomo is not a selfie kind of guy. I do have a picture of him and colleague Lezlie Sterling hard at work – sitting, heads leaning together, eyes closed, pretending to sleep while they waited for the outcome of the surgery of conjoined twins Erika and Eva Sandoval. In jest, he did a rare thing, asking reporter Sammy Caiola to turn the camera around on him. He is a funny kind of guy.

His supervisor, Mark Morris, sent me that picture on Dec. 6 while we covered the story at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford. The next day, he sent me another, a real one, of the family after the 17-hour successful surgery, by Manny, of the family watching a video, by Manny.

This is Manny’s kind of selfie, the selfless kind. This one is a knockoff, really, not the type of work Manny, a Pulitzer Prize winner (Feature Photography, 1989), generally does or would put in a portfolio. “An iPhone image ... not very good,” Mark assessed when I asked if I could use it. Mark has high standards.

But I was struck by how it captures what our photographers do, how they part the curtains of the windows to the world and share what we otherwise would never see or experience. And how they allow us to see ourselves beyond any arm-extended mug shot.

Aida Sandoval, mom, can relive the moment, captured on video, of her husband Arturo saying, simply and poetically, “They went from one to two.” She’s surrounded by loved ones who can share joy and relief, through Manny’s work. His work takes us beyond ourselves, from one to twos.

Lezlie, awake obviously, is here, too, uncomfortably in the picture. She, like Manny, had worked hard to establish a connection with the family, to focus on, as she said, “How can I best tell this story in the way it deserves to be told?” She’s not a selfie person either, apparently.

We do live in a selfie world, though. Millennials supposedly will take 25,000 selfies in their lifetime, which is an odd prediction, given we don’t know what the future will bring. The iPhone celebrates only its 10th anniversary in 2017, and now the world grips 2 billion smartphones to Snapchat, Instagram, duckface, gapeface, go live and go viral.

In the ’80s, I read Michael Arlen’s essays “The Camera Age.” “More and more, we see what the cameras see,” he wrote. “Our interests become determined by what the cameras are interested in.” He was talking about TV, assessing how cameras don’t capture reality, but selectively alter it.

He didn’t foresee our current state of the ubiquitous camera, trained on us always because we enjoy sealing our experiences in digital envelopes and sending them to one another. Maybe they do alter reality, but they also infuse it with shared experiences. Manny and Lezlie step out of the frame, freeze moments in images, unfold them in video and show you a reality beyond self.

Conjoined twins Erika and Eva Sandoval stable following successful separation ​at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital on Tuesday, December 6 in a 17-hour surgery.

Scott Lebar is the Sacramento Bee's Managing Editor, 916-321-1182, @slebar

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