Exactly 200 portraits can be savored in the striking book “Ripley 200: A Bicentennial Project.”

In the book, which commemorates 2018’s county bicentennial, professional photographer Anjali Fong (known by many as Fong) explained that when she was the Indiana Bicentennial Torch Relay Event for Ripley County official photographer, “the experience opened my eyes to the amazing community, and my ears to the many more wonderful stories waiting to be told. It pivotally dawned on me then that I was truly living among some of the loveliest people in the world.”

The idea for a hardback book of photos, with a paragraph about each subject, was born.

She observes, “I think the images in the book are perceived as exquisite because they have emotional content tagged to them. Every image in the book tells the person’s story, making the image even more interesting and valuable.” She believes if the book was printed with just the photos, but no written content, it would not be as memorable. “Everyone loves good stories, especially those that pull the heartstrings.”

To find the 200 persons, in newspaper articles the Versailles resident requested nominations in various categories – World War II and Korean War veterans, faces behind places, centenarians, heroes among us, anniversaries, inventors, historic achievements and diverse Hoosiers. “People started emailing me their nominations, and once I interviewed and photographed some of the nominees, they nominated their friends and it all spiraled from there. At every session, I started off with some questions related to the category ... and then dug further into the stories. Sometimes the stories told during the interviews turned out to be better than the original intended stories.”

Photographing the subjects combined Fong’s occupation and love of travel. “There were many areas in Ripley County which I never knew existed until this project. I think having a ‘tourist’ mindset is important, to be interested in the local events, festivities, places of interests and restaurants. This project opened my eyes to so many events unknown to me before.”

One memorable location was Paulhenge in Holton. She explains, “Paul Morris built this replica of Stonehenge out of locally quarried limestone. Three weeks after my interview with him, I visited Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England. Seeing these two monuments within the same month was surreal to me.”

The most challenging photo shoot was when the Malaysian native photographed the Lohrum family in Osgood. “It was -10 degrees on that freezing December 2017 night. I wanted to photograph them with the Christmas decorations outside of their house, and we had to do a few tries as my fingers were frozen, and then the (camera) speedlight acted up. We had to get into the house to warm up and then tried again.”

Pets ranging from a raccoon and cat to two dogs and a chicken were not difficult to photograph. Her secret? “I let the pet owner handle the pet. I posed the human subject with the pet, advising the owner to look into the camera while I tried to get the pet’s attention. I pressed the shutter when the pet looked at the camera.”

She did have one photo disaster. Fong reports, “I couldn’t find any of the photo files of the Nuhrings (Bill and Alice) when I wanted to edit them. I don’t know what had happened. The files just disappeared, as though they never existed.” The Batesville couple were kind enough to agree to a second photo shoot. “They joked that I purposely deleted the images so that I could have an excuse to see them again. It could be true as I thoroughly enjoyed their company – they were funny, happy and such a joy to be around.”

During the months it took to capture the personalities of hundreds of Hoosiers, Fong discovered “people are very friendly and welcoming once they get to know you. And if they really like you, they will give you food. It’s very similar to the Asian culture, and also very close to what I’ve told my friends – ‘If I like you, I will feed you.’”

She reflects, “Universally, human beings are the same – we all have the same basic needs of love and friendship, aspirations to do better, and to be acknowledged for who we are by our loved ones, family and community.”

Even before settling on a career, Fong was artistic as a child, sketching and painting. “That progressed to photography in college (in Malaysia, where she earned a communication design degree). I bought my very first camera – a Nikon FM2 (a semiprofessional, interchangeable lens film camera).

“When I decided I wanted to make photography my career since my move to the USA, I took a lot of courses in various genres of photography (wedding, portrait, product, architecture) online or at in-person workshops. It took many years before I developed my signature style.”

She had 15 years of advertising agency experience (Leo Burnett, McCann Erickson, JWT and Saatchi & Saatchi) as a group brand director in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, working with international brands such L’Oréal Paris, Maybelline, Kraft Cheese, Kleenex and Scott, before making a life change.

The perceptive woman recounts, “I came to the USA to marry my husband (Asher). We met online and had a long distance relationship for over three years before we met in 2008, after which we proceeded with the visa application so that we could start our married life together. I like to joke that I was a mail order bride, just to see people’s reactions and expressions, which are priceless. Many fall for it, as I tell the joke with a straight face.”

Now Fong works her photography magic (see examples of her work at https://www.anjalifong.com) at two studio locations, the second floor of the Voldico Insurance building in Osgood, and a space she shares with six photographers at Essex Studios, Cincinnati. Currently, she reports, “I am working on a Christmas promotion with my client, Macaron Bar, and pitching for new jobs with potential new clients. ... I would love to work for national brands, besides helping local small and medium brands build their brands and business.

“Personally, I would love to photograph Oprah one day – I have been a big fan since I was 11.”

Still, working on “Ripley 200: A Bicentennial Project” has made a lasting impact on Fong, leaving her more comfortable in her adopted state.

In the book, she wrote, “I deeply want to share these stories so that we may all know our neighbors better ... I’m indeed humbled by their honesty, their generosity and openness. And their love for God, family, friends and the community.”

Debbie Blank can be contacted at debbie.blank@batesvilleheraldtribune.com or 812-717-3113.