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Sean, coal miner (Instagram)

Hard Work, Squared: Selections From Our First Instagram Assignment

by Claire O'Neill
Aug 21, 2013

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Photographs submitted to the Instagram series "Public Square" (clockwise from top left by @heathfish, @meganjaepearl, @resehop, @priscillablaas

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Claire O'Neill

Earlier this month we launched our new Instagram project with KPCC called "Public Square": We make the assignment, you take the photos! Our first theme was "Hard Work." The task: Find someone with a thankless job, take a portrait and tag it #PSHardWork. Here are a few of our favorites — not only great photos but also interesting stories.

Look out for the next theme in September. And find us on Instagram. @NPR and @KPCC


... I don't think all coal miners are miserable by any means, but my mind still leaped to the days I spent with Sean and his family. Sean earned $12/hour at a small, independent mine. He rode in on his back, through tunnels so narrow that lying down was the only option. He spent most of his workday on his knees, shoveling coal back onto a conveyer belt, which was especially grueling with no room to stand. Sean's wife was alone with the kids most of the time. When he wasn't working, he liked to sit in their bedroom alone with his beer and painkillers and the lights off. I wondered if she invited me into her home to have another adult to talk to. They didn't have a phone, certainly no internet, and we quickly lost touch. When I was back in Jolo years later, I found their trailer. A neighbor told me that Sean had died and his wife had moved back to Tennessee, and I was sad for all of them and hoped she wasn't as lonely now. @npr #pshardwork

This is for the #PSHardWork project. I chose my mom, 67 years old. For more years than I know she's been doing janitorial work. That's not all. She also did painting, and other jobs that helped care for her family. I'm the youngest of six kids. Two things that have always been most important to my mom is her faith and family. Her hard work and determination shaped [me] into the person I am today. Now I currently run my own cleaning business, and I learned my work ethic and skill from my mom. So, hey! Go thank a janitor today!

Ricky is a tailor in Medellin, Colombia. I passed by and ask him if I could take a photo. We couldn't communicate through words since I don't speak Spanish. I printed this photo and took it back to him as a gift. The smile on his face and the joy in his eyes is all the communication I needed. As Williams James said, "Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does." #PSHardWork

This is Mr. Benny. Aside from always smiling, constantly talking and creatively making nicknames, he has been working for the San Diego Unified School District for over 25 years. Through his employment as a custodian and lively personality, the students never hesitate to joyfully greet him. Cheers to you, Benny. Thanks for doing your job wholeheartedly. // @KPCC @NPR #PSHardWork #makeportraits #storyportrait #thisisportrait #VSCOcam

Meet Ruth. Ruth moved here from Mexico in 1998, and in 2003 established her own cleaning business. For ten years, this lovely soul has risen early and worked tirelessly — dusting the shelves, mopping the floors and shining the glass of other people's homes. "I made business cards when I first started, but only used one and never had to make them since." Her work spoke for itself, leading clients to [recommend] her to others, and today she is in charge of a busy little enterprise. Thank you, Ruth, for your beautiful work ethic and genial disposition. // @kpcc @npr #pshardwork

I happened to walk into Haskell's barber shop on a particularly rough day. I had just turned 31 and it was the kind of day where you can't shake the idea that your life is not where you pictured it to be. We didn't say much our first meeting, but he gave me a great hair cut, scalp massage, and showed me where my part should really be. It was a quietly restoring experience and he's been my barber ever since. Haskell C. Ford is 93. He's been a barber for nearly 70 years and has cut his way through more than 200,000 heads of hair, all without missing a single day's work. He is my friend. This short documentary is a tribute to his kindness and the changes people make in our lives often without them knowing. http://vimeo.com/m/71797503 #PHardWork @kpcc

"I've worked hard all my life." — Beth Eileen Gates, born January 9, 1924. "Age of Wisdom" series. Environmental portraits with seniors that inspire me. #igportraits#environmentalportrait #wisdom #portrait#igphotography #photography#igphotographers #igdaily #jj #igdailyportrait#gramoftheday #gotd #all_shots #seniorcitizen#ageofwisdomseries

This is Mr. Mitchell from New Orleans, La. He has taught science at Morningside Elementary in East Fort Worth for 14 years. Most likely the only horticulturalist in [all 37] schools of the district, he spends 7 days a week nurturing the garden classroom in which his students learn to plant, propagate and landscape throughout the school year. Well-traveled, and amply educated and degreed to prove it, he told me this is the best job he's ever had working for these kids. #PSHardWork

This is Achala, but she goes by "Anu." She came to New York from a village in Nepal to make a living and now lives in Bushwick. For the past year, she has been working at my local nail salon in Brooklyn, which employs other Nepalese women. I know she works hard because she is always there — she does nails and eyebrow threading 6 days a week from open to close, and is always incredibly cheerful and warm. She told me that she wants to save money to visit her family — they are all still in Nepal. She is 27 years old. #PSHardWork @npr @kpcc (posted as part of a storytelling project called Public Square)

Pastor Debbe Santiago, Salt and Sea Mission, Coney Island, [N.Y.]. Debbe has been working to restore the flooded mission for [nine] months, and has been continuing the mission's work throughout, often with little or no city or federal support. The unfinished walls behind her are a testament to her hard work, and to the work still needing to be done. #PSHardWork

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