Northwestern community rallies to replace mugged photographer's camera

    Refusing to give up after his camera was stolen, photographer Justin Barbin (second from right) celebrates with friends at a fundraiser for a replacement camera. Photo by Mary Hungerford.

    In April of 2010 alone, Justin Barbin took 9,705 photographs.

    A staple at nearly every theater, fashion and entertainment show on campus, Barbin, a Communication junior, refers to himself as “the guy who’s typically always with a camera.” With over 200 Facebook albums to his name (“with one slated to come up this weekend,” he adds), Barbin has made capturing “the fashion, the style and the culture of Northwestern” his mission. His meticulous documentation of every facet of Northwestern life, from 2007’s “Preview NU” to the Titanic Players’ most recent show, is made more impressive by the fact that he does this all virtually for free.

    “My payment is, oh, this sounds so cheesy but like, the preservation…it’s about preserving memories and the community and preserving our youth,” says Barbin. While he serves as the Street Team photo editor for Stitch, the majority of his photos result from this pure preservation passion. And when Barbin’s passion for preserving memories of the Northwestern community was threatened, the Northwestern community fought back.

    Last Friday, Barbin was assaulted and mugged outside of his Ridge and Davis apartment. Already upset because of a close family member’s poor health, Barbin was left devastated by the loss of his camera. At the police station, “I just broke down,” he says. But crying is unusual for Barbin. As his friend Nicole Silverberg, a Communication freshman, says, “He’s literally just someone with a heart of gold…he’s also very fun and gets giggle fits.”

    Barbin’s passion for Northwestern and love for his fellow students is evident through his photographing frenzies. After the attack, “One of the first things he said was ‘Oh my gosh, I’m going to miss a photoshoot tomorrow,” says Communication junior Alex Ryser. “He was more upset about what he could give to people than what was taken from him.”

    His friends’ and acquaintances’ initial response to the mugging reminded Barbin that “there are just such good people in this world, and I have such faith in humanity.” A couple in his apartment complex comforted him and helped him call the police; several friends met him at the police station, and even more students inundated him with concerned texts and calls. However, Barbin was unprepared for the extent to which the Northwestern community was primed to support him.

    The first response was a long email thread over the listserv of Griffin’s Tale, the children’s theater company where Barbin is a producer. Silverberg describes this thread as a brainstorming session for “what we can do to help him” — or, more specifically, how to help Justin get a new camera. The group settled on a bar night at the Keg; as Silverberg says, “If people want to come to an event, it would be nice to get everyone together and have a celebration in honor of Justin.”

    Meanwhile, other students, completely independent of the Griffin’s Tale initiatives, set up a Paypal account to raise awareness and funds for a new camera for Justin. McCormick junior Mert Iseri helped create the Justin Barbin Camera Fund Facebook group, which links to Immediately, “Money came pouring in,” Iseri says. People began messaging Iseri, asking when and how to donate money to Justin. “Everybody was ready to do something. People just love Justin so much,” Iseri says. “He’s just a great guy, he gives so much. Justin provides a critical service to Northwestern essentially for free. I think we owe him.”

    Masses of Northwestern students turned up at The Barbin Camera Bonanza at The Keg of Evanston on Saturday. Photo by Justin Barbin.

    Ryser found the Facebook group, which now has 326 members, and contacted Iseri, asking to join forces with the Griffin’s Tale initiative. “The theater community would pony up so much money for Justin because of how much we owe him,” Ryser says. Ryser spent a day canning around Norris, soliciting donations. This combination of online and personal donations garnered nearly $800 in five days for a new camera for Barbin.

    “It was very simple,” Ryser said. “All I had to do was tell them that Justin Barbin was mugged and his camera was stolen. The best comparison I heard was from a student who said ‘That’s like taking the hammer away from Thor.’”

    The Barbin Camera Bonanza bar night on Saturday garnered an additional $457.67, said Communication junior Mary Hungerford, one of the event’s main organizers.

    “We had a great turnout,” Hungerford said of the bar night, which featured performances from The Undertones, the senior Titanic Players team and Barbin’s own Griffin’s Tale. “Very Barbin-friendly, and it ended with a Justin Barbin-style dance party.”

    She adds, laughing, “And of course he borrowed someone else’s camera last night and was taking photos.”

    Barbin has been overwhelmed by the amount of love and support he has received. “I don’t think I could say something that would be worthy of how grateful I am, like, I just get so choked up and inarticulate about this,” he says. “All I can do is give people hugs and tell them thank you.”

    Barbin’s friends, supporters and photography subjects maintain that he deserves every single penny that people are donating.

    “He’s just a great guy, he gives so much,” Iseri says. “Justin provides a critical service to Northwestern essentially for free. I think we owe him.”

    Hungerford says, “one of the members [of Griffin's Tale] joked, ‘If it wasn’t for Justin, I’d never remember college.’”

    Ryser agrees. He talks about a time when, feeling nostalgic for a show he had performed in, he dug through Barbin’s albums until he found the exact photos he was looking for.

    He pauses, and says, “But I think sometimes Justin Barbin is the exact thing we’re looking for.”


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