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MAY 2006
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In some cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.
Photograph by Annie McLain

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On Assignment



    I don't suffer from allergies. And because they don't affect my life, I didn't really know much about them before this assignment. So I had the luxury of researching and delving into the topic and becoming very knowledgeable about allergies. To go from knowing nothing to knowing a lot about a subject is one of the best things about being a photographer.

    The air was so contaminated inside the hotel air-conditioning ducts I was photographing in Florida that I had to use a respirator and dress head-to-toe in a protective Tyvek suit. To get inside, I crawled into a hole that was probably about 13 x 13 inches (33 x 33 centimeters). I really don't know how I managed to get in.
    The air duct wasn't like the ones in the movies that are always perfectly clean. These were filled with disgusting mold and dust. Plus, it was so hot in there that I was sweating to death. The respirator seal broke every time I turned, so all this black mold and stuff would fly into my mouth. When I finally got out of the duct, I had to clean every bit of my equipment with alcohol. If the mold got into my cameras, it would grow and ruin them.
    Jim Sneed may be the only pollen farmer in Missouri, at least as far as he knows. He operates this weird niche business on a little farm out in the middle of nowhere. Sneed harvests pollen by climbing up trees and shaking the pollen off. He also runs a vacuum over his fields to harvest pollen from the ragweed. At the end of the day, he's covered in it. The pharmaceutical industry uses this pollen to manufacture immunotherapy shots to treat people with allergies.
    This is a science story, but I really tried to make it more human. And nothing does that better than a pollen farmer in Missouri.  

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