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A Battered Box, a Fearless Rescue and One Brash New Yorker… or What I Learned Photographing the People of “I am FedEx”

June 2, 2010

With the launch of a new FedEx employee recognition program called “I am FedEx”, I was asked to photograph life sized portraits and wall hangings featuring FedEx employees across the company. The thing I like most about this concept is we’re featuring the unsung heroes who perform the magic ‘behind the curtain’. They are the everyday workers, the ones on the frontlines who produce by doing and being out in the field, hubs and stations every day.

There is a genuine aspect to the photographs combined with their own personal reflections on how FedEx has either affected their lives or perhaps, even more so, how they themselves have affected the success of FedEx. This gives the campaign real meaning beyond its taglines and it’s been rewarding for both my colleague photographer Burt Pittman and myself to photograph these frontline wizards.

Of course it is not the easiest thing to put people in front of a camera and lights and get them to relax. But it’s easier than sorting and delivering boxes; been there done that. Having that commonality of working in the hub before landing my current position as corporate photographer has helped me to relate to these individuals so they will hopefully reveal a bit of themselves.

The other plus is I get to put a face to some great stories, like Memphis Handler Ousmane Balde who brought his own prop to the shoot: a FedEx box. A FedEx box??? What? Is that a special photo prop, I asked. It’s because Ousmane’s battered and bruised prop is a keepsake. It’s how he was able to get his immigration and naturalization papers safely shipped, after previous shippers had lost his papers and documents. He now works in the Memphis Hub, lives modestly and sends money home to his wife and kids in Africa. His dream is to someday bring them to their American home here in Memphis.

Then there’s Shipping Agent Tammie Michels. On my way out after completing an interview and photo session for Tammie in Portland, Oregon — one of her coworkers pulled me aside and told me how Tammie received a Humanitarian Award. She never mentioned it during our interview. She was too modest to bring it up, but as it turns out, she saved a girl from a vicious dog attack even though she herself was mauled in the process.

Jim Robba is also one of the characters you’ll never forget. He’s a transplanted, boisterous New Yorker (“hello”) working as a lead aircraft mechanic in Los Angeles. His hobby is rebuilding Ferraris. Robba, as he is quick to point out, is as gritty and authentic as they come. He sports earrings and tattoos and brings that no compromise Purple Promise New York attitude to motivate his team and yes, he leads by example. We have planes, trucks, tugs and more but our real assets are our people. Some of them are more comfortable than others revealing themselves and their stories, but when the connection is made and they forget the lights, camera and me, the expressions come, as they realize that their success is our success.

After all, we are – I am…FedEx.

Learn about about the passions, commitment and work of other FedEx team members at


    Pam Roberson says:

    Excellent post, Cook! I knew you could take good pictures, but you’re writing is fantastic!
    Really conveys the emotion of the whole “I Am FedEx” initiative. It reinforces why we all love being “FedExers”!

    Lisa Westbrook says:

    Your portraits are wonderful. And yes, you’re a good storyteller, too. Thanks for sharing. Best, Sarge

    Kate Hazard says:

    I just started at FedEx on June 1st. It’s been a great experience beginning to learn everything and getting all the training. After reading this I knew even more so that beyond being a company that will be around for awhile, it is a company that cares. About it’s employees and it’s customers. I dabble in photography and it’s nice to know the different directions I might be able to go if I learn more, apply myself, and be a part of the Purple Promise.

    Angie Nelson says:

    BZ Steve! Great photos and stories, I agree!

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