The Heart Of The Art: Behind A Special Father's Day Story At NPR

Aug 8, 2013
Originally published on September 5, 2013 4:17 pm

As many of our listeners can attest, NPR loves a good story. We're always striving to find new and better ways to capture people's real experiences - the sights and sounds of life - for you. So when Coburn Dukehart, from NPR's Multimedia department, brought together two generations of Irish artists for a beautiful radio, video and written documentary of their story, we asked her to share the memories that were made in the process.

When I first learned about Bobbie and Steafán Hanvey, I knew their story was something special. One that deserved to be told through the very art that it had inspired.

The Hanveys are father and son artists - Steafán the musician and his father, Bobbie, the photographer - from Northern Ireland who were both uniquely influenced by a violent, 30-year conflict in the region.

Since the 1970s, Bobbie, 68, has shot more than 19,000 images of life in Northern Ireland, documenting both everyday scenes, as well as the extraordinary events of The Troubles - nearly three decades of violent political and religious conflict beginning in the 1960s. He has also conducted more than 1,000 interviews for his radio program, The Ramblin' Man.

While they have each had a fair share of media attention on their own, the Hanveys had never been interviewed as a pair before I got them together in a studio in Belfast earlier this year. Here's the story of how it finally came together.

The Troubles and Challenges
The challenging part of producing and editing this multimedia piece was figuring out how to concisely tell the stories of these two individuals, their more than 40-year common narrative and the influence of The Troubles, all within a short web presentation. I wanted to give historical context for their work, without it becoming a long history lesson. I wanted to explain Bobbie's origins in photography, how he influenced his son and how important he is in Northern Ireland. I wanted to showcase Steafán's music, and I wanted to highlight the tender parts of their relationship.

A video chat with Steafán, who was in Dublin at the time, was the first of our many conversations. We talked about his childhood and music, and his father's work, as well as their occasionally strained relationship. He was thoughtful about how growing up during a tumultuous time in history had influenced his art, as well as how his album reflected his relationship with his family. At the end of the call, Steafán agreed to work with me to tell his family's story.

A week later, I interviewed the father and son together. It was a moving experience for all of us. They were eloquent, they were candid, and they cracked jokes at the other's expense. It was hard to believe that they hadn't always been close.

To document their story in a multimedia piece, I blended the interview with Steafán's music, as well as archival photos and video, and clips from Bobbie's radio show. I searched through thousands of Bobbie's images on the Boston College archives to find ones to illustrate his story and showcase his best work.

Along the way, Steafán was an intimate part of the process, and I never could have put this project together without him (especially as Bobbie doesn't own a computer). Steafán sent batches of old family photos, had a photographer shoot portraits of him and his father together, gave me archival video of his family and his band and tracked down all of the historical copyright and credit information.

A Family Affair
The final result, "Like Father, Like Son: Creating Art In A Time Of Troubles," is a multi-part telling of their story in video, written text and audio. I originally started the project in February of this year, and it was timed to publish in June, right before Father's Day.

Morning Edition Executive Producer Tracy Wahl and Keith Jenkins, the former head of NPR's Multimedia team, championed the project from the beginning. After five months of work reporting and producing, they helped me see it through to something bigger than I'd anticipated - a radio story on Morning Edition using my original interview, edited and remixed by Production Assistant Leah Scarpelli.

While NPR's Multimedia team usually creates content that supplements on-air and online reporting, in this case, the radio was able to add a new layer to our visual content. Overall, it was a beautiful example of the web and the radio working hand-in-hand to create a story that resonated equally on both platforms, utilizing the unique power of both mediums. Cross-platform collaboration at its best!

You can view the multimedia piece, listen to the radio story and read more about Bobbie and Steafán Hanvey on The Picture Show blog – NPR's showcase for stories about photography.

Coburn Dukehart (@cdukehart) is the Picture and Multimedia Editor for As well as helping to visualize stories on NPR, including Traumatic Brain Injury, Suicide by Cop, and Woman Airforce Service Pilots, other titles include momma, traveler, yoga-practicer and drummer.

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