Rob Gregory (’05) was working as an ad agency art director when he noticed a hard lump in his right calf. A doctor gave it a quick look and said there was nothing to worry about – just a calcified hematoma. Rob shrugged off the lump as something he could learn to ignore. Four years later, that seemingly benign lump swelled suddenly where one calf was twice the size of the other.
“I went into a different doctor and said, ‘Okay something’s clearly wrong.’ We did a biopsy and sure enough it was a very aggressive form of cancer,” Rob said.
A biopsy found a rare subset of an already rare cancer called synovial sarcoma. Ultimately, the doctors had to amputate Rob’s right leg. With life changing fast, Rob found himself seeking clarity on what he wanted to do with his life. He had loved photography ever since the pre-digital days of dark rooms and film. He weighed the option of making the move to be a full-time photographer.
“I worked for several more years as an agency art director as I really started focusing on my photography,” Rob said. “I started doing work with different organizations. After losing my leg, I looked into ways I could still stay active, and found wheelchair basketball and softball. I’ve always played sports. It’s always been a part of who I am.”
As Rob played sports alongside other athletes with disabilities, he noticed a disconnect in the ways they had traditionally been depicted with images. He saw photos of the athletes sitting in their chairs, smiling at the camera, when in reality they were aggressive and fearless competitors. They deserved a more artistic, bolder approach. He developed an idea to shoot the athletes as athletes first. The project took off, and his photography career followed.
“I played sports with these guys,” Rob said. “I know what they’re capable of. I’m not scared to ask them to do something that might be a little challenging or outside of their comfort zone. That’s how the work always gets elevated.”
Since then, Rob has built a successful and decorated career as a photographer working with agencies and on commercial projects. Despite ongoing success, he continues to recognize communities that are underserved with imagery. In his free time, he seeks out ways to give back to communities that are traditionally photographed in stale, non-artistic ways. A recent project
involved kids in the Leary Children’s hospital undergoing chemotherapy. Rather than photographing them in the hospital, he pitched the idea that the kids would be dressed as superheroes. Like the athletes in wheelchairs, Rob drew from his own experiences for inspiration.
“That idea stemmed from thinking back to my days in the hospital,” he said. “It’s such a long, tedious day. You’re getting blood draws and chemo. There’s nothing fun that’s happening there. So I was thinking about kids going through that and started thinking about what we could do that would be fun for them on that day. I settled on bringing in a bunch of costume pieces and letting the kids dress themselves up as superheroes.”
The kids chose their own costumes to reflect their fighting spirit, and Rob photographed them in iconic spots around Chicago. The kids, their families, and the entire city loved the photos, as it showcased the strength of the kids rather than their circumstances. Rob’s work has been honored with numerous accolades and awards from the biggest photography competitions in the world.
To learn more about Rob Gregory, visit robgregoryphotography.com