Months into the project, Castro and McConahey took the proposal to two Press Democrat editors, Photo Chief Chad Surmick and Features Editor Corinne Asturias. Surmick recalls:
"As the project progressed it became clear we had something really special and a story that had to be told and to do the right thing with it. … The body of work after a year was astounding."
McConahey was given three weeks in which to review hours of tapes and a year of notes, then write a draft. Her expansive plan for the story met with revisions, however:
"My initial draft was cut in half. I would like to have presented more context and backstory and fine detail. ... But Erik’s intimate photography powerfully conveys what could not be said."
Castro designed the entire online version at home, adding in McConahey’s copy. He spent five months on what Surmick calls “his wonderfully constructed page,” but Castro wishes he’d had more eyeballs on it. “It literally went from my laptop to their site,” he says.
Steve and Michelle’s public story ends in bittersweet reality. Michelle found a job in security detail for fairs and other events, and the couple finally qualified for a small apartment. Visiting Michelle at work, Castro almost didn’t recognize her: She looked happy. But Steve could not cope with living indoors. After a fight, Michelle threw him out and secured a temporary restraining order against him. He was later arrested on charges of violating the order and domestic violence.
“Broken” appeared in Sonoma Magazine and on the Press Democrat website in early September 2018, then in two installments in the newspaper a month later. “This was the vision from the beginning, to tell this story over multiple platforms so it could make the greatest impact and be seen,” Surmick says.
Castro and McConahey visited Steve in jail, but they have eased out of their subjects’ lives. Castro has returned to daily freelance assignments but tries to keep “Broken” in the public eye.
“I feel like talking about this project is a big part of its purpose because so much happened that's just not communicated in the published story,” he says. The local community college exhibited some photos to accompany his lecture there. And he has other projects planned. “It’s a shame that long-form photojournalism is disappearing from publications,” Castro says. “You become a more articulate photographer the more you do it.” ■
Kathy Morrison is a freelance writer and editor who formerly worked at The Sacramento Bee.
Erik Castro's website is erikcastrophoto.com