Edward Boches is a Massachusetts-based photographer known for his photo essays documenting the struggles of communities in Boston and Cape Cod. His most recent project, Volunteers of America, highlights the work and impact of volunteers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Boches talked to GBH Radio’s Henry Santoro about their stories and the optimism they hold for the future. The transcript below has been edited for clarity.

Henry Santoro: Listeners of Henry in the Hub may remember the segment we did several months ago titled Pandemic Boston, a photographic exhibit that captures how COVID-19 transformed Boston. It features the work of six photographers and was organized and curated by local photographer Edward Boches. Well, Edward is back with another very important exhibit. This one is titled Volunteers of America. It's a collection of portraits and quotes documenting the work and aspirations of volunteers in the Boston area. In it, we meet community activists, food pantry volunteers, health care workers and everything in between. It's a pleasure to welcome Edward back to GBH and Henry in The Hub, Edward. Great to hear your voice again.

Edward Boches: Hey, Henry, thanks for having me. Great to hear your voice as well.

Santoro: This project not only highlights the impact of the individual volunteer, but also the power that volunteers have collectively. Can you tell us where the inspiration for this project came from and how it was born?

A black and white photo of a young man standing in front of a white ghost bike memorial.
Peter Cheung is a bicycle advocate who installs ghost bikes as a memorial for cyclists killed by road violence and is featured in photographer Edward Boches photo essay book, "Vounteers of America."
Edward Boches

Boches: I had been photographing all over the city at food pantries. But as I continued to work on that series of images, I realized there was something else that was attracting me, and it was the people who were volunteering at all of these facilities. In almost every single case, none of them were in the business of food distribution until COVID hit. And that mindset of, ‘I see a problem, no one else is solving it, I need to do something,’ became a magnet for me. I've probably photographed 50 or 60 people around the Boston area now, but I think this will be a long-term and even deeper project as I continue.

Santoro: What's great is that volunteers come from every different background that you can imagine. It makes you wonder, [what] are their motivations for volunteering? Do they differ or are they the same?

Boches: Common across all of the volunteers is just a need to give back somehow. But the motivations are, in fact, incredibly different. I photographed someone who worked at a food pantry in Dorchester. He's in his 60s. He was a Vietnam vet and he was homeless for more than two decades. And it wasn't until his 50 years, or so, that he got his feet on the ground finally and had a place to live. As soon as he achieved that, he began volunteering — it was his way of giving back to people who had helped him. In some cases, it’s just that, "Hey, I'm well-off or capable and there are people who need my help and it's the right thing to do." There's that one common denominator of just a need to give back.

Hadiya Flower, a human rights activist and strategist who runs Blue Crime Blue Dime, is featured in "Volunteers of America."
Edward Boches

Santoro: This could be a very long-term project for you, correct?

Boches: Yeah, I think so. And what's really fascinating is that a lot of this becomes visible in part because of COVID and the acute need that so many people have. The stories are inspiring. If we lost faith in humankind or became pessimistic about the future in the last four or five years, the more of these stories that you hear or read or share, you realize a lot of really good people [are] out there doing amazing things. And that inspires me to want to do more myself. I met a 13-year-old girl who volunteered at a senior center and a third of her patients died of COVID. That’s a tragic story, but she's still optimistic and she's now found other places to volunteer. One after another, these stories are just remarkably inspiring.

Santoro: Very good. Edward Boches’ latest exhibit is "Volunteers of America." You can see it at his website, edwardboches.com. Edward, it's always a pleasure. Keep cranking out these projects because each one speaks volumes for the world we live in these days.

Boches: Thank you, Henry. I encourage everybody to find some way to volunteer themselves. I can tell you the people I've met who do volunteer work are actually among the happiest people I have ever met.

GBH News intern Lucy Barnum assisted in production of this segment.

A black and white photo of a women in a white dress standing in front of a playground.
Annie Mazzola is a volunteer with FriendshipWorks, which aims to end senior isolation. She's featured in "Volunteers of America."
Edward Boches