The VICE Channels

'Ghost Photographer' Who Worked for Alleged Killer Mom Speaks Out

Apr 4 2016 2:25 PM
'Ghost Photographer' Who Worked for Alleged Killer Mom Speaks Out

All images by Sunny Jo

After her 2-year-old daughter's death—but before being charged with her murder—Jeanie Ditty commissioned photos of herself with the child's ghost. We spoke to the photographer behind the haunting (and now heavily scrutinized) images about his work and the pending murder case.

Last week, Jeanie Ditty, a 23-year-old active duty soldier in North Carolina, was arrested on suspicion of murdering her 2-year-old daughter Macy Grace. In the aftermath of Macy Grace's death, Ditty started a GoFundMe Page to cover funeral costs and commissioned a Pennsylvania photographer to compose "after life" tribute photos of Ditty of her deceased daughter.

In December of last year, paramedics rushed 2-year-old Macy Grace to the hospital. Her parents called an ambulance after the girl had started vomiting at their home near Fort Brag. According to reports, the toddler had injuries consistent with life-threatening child abuse. Her body was covered in bruises and she had a lacerated liver. Two days later, Macy Grace died from her injuries. Ditty told friends and relatives that the young girl had died from a choking accident.

After police finished their three month investigation into Ditty, they charged her with capital murder. She is currently facing the death penalty.

The photos commissioned by Ditty show the mother and a transparent image of Macy Grace, sitting alongside each other by the girl's grave site. The photos have been described as "creepy," "morbid," and "disrespectful." The photographer, Sunny Jo, has been specializing in "One Last Time Photos," as he calls them, for the last year, with great success. There is a large market of people who want to commemorate their loved ones by placing them in photos with the living. Jo also does weddings, special events, and graphic design along with the tribute photos but after life aspect of his photography has really taken off. He estimates that in the last year he's created 800 to 1,000 tribute photos. When Jo heard of Ditty's, arrest he was "horrified." Jo recently spoke with Broadly about his interactions with Ditty, his work, and why the people in his photos are "angels, not ghosts."

BROADLY: When Jeanine Ditty called you, what did she say about her daughter's death?
SUNNY JO: She went into a lot of detail about it on email. She basically said that the daughter had a stomach ache and she thought she had stomach virus. She wasn't sure though, so she gave her daughter a banana. Then her daughter started choking on the banana, which caused her to vomit. Then the daughter ended up choking on the vomit, and lost oxygen to the brain. She went on life support and then they eventually took her off life support. She put this all in an email to me which I later gave to detectives.

But that's not the story she gave other people?
Originally, she told people that the child choked on a Pop Tart; that was one of the discrepancies the police found. She also told other people that her daughter died because she fell in bathtub or because she had a blood disease. There's twenty different stories.

How did you react when you read Ditty's email?
[Ditty] is only a year older than me, and it really hit me hard. After I did the photos and everything she asked for, I ended up deciding not to charge her just because her story affected me. I told her, "You're a grieving young mother. I don't have it in my heart to charge you. I hope this helps." She offered to pay, but I said no. She blew up the photos, she gave me a great review. Three months later I'm receiving all these insane emails calling me a
"monster," "a fag," "a loser."

What happened when the police called you?
I got so sick. It's so appalling. It's fucking up my sleep. I hate that I had any part of it. When I was talking to police I was shaking from anxiety and disgust. In talking with cops, one of them pointed out to me, he said, "Hey, buddy, you know, she used you. She used for these pictures to seem like she was a grieving mother." If she killed her daughter, she wasn't trying to pay tribute to her, she was manipulating people. She manipulated me and used me.

What gave you the idea to do tribute photographs?
My father died of lung cancer sometime ago. One day when I visiting his grave I was behind the headstone and I was thinking in my head—"Dad, did I make you proud? Dad, are you still here in some way?" I just had a feeling like he was right there. I'm not trying to get all spiritual because I'm not a very spiritual person, but I felt his presence. It warmed my heart—not to sound like a little girl or nothing, but it made me feel good. My brother was with me and I asked him, "Not to be weirdo, but bro, will take a picture of me in front of my dad's grave?"

Jo and his father

When I got home, I started editing and I just decided to add him into the picture. I didn't share it or nothing, it was just for me. It made me feel happy. Eventually I put the picture on Facebook and it got a huge response. People said they wanted photos with their deceased relatives and I decided to offer my services.

Do you consider them tasteful?
I don't go over the top. I think they're tasteful and not cheesy. I've had people come to me asking to like custom hearts and glitter. I tell them I don't want to do it because that seems like it's for attention. I don't these photos for people to draw attention to themselves. That's not tasteful.

Why do you make the deceased in the photos transparent and ghostly?
I make them transparent, with rays of light around them so they look like angels. They're transparent cause their body isn't there anymore. Their body isn't what made them special; it's their soul. They're angelic, it's the essence of them. I'm not trying to resurrect the dead, I'm just trying to pay respect to a person's essence.

Do you believe in ghosts or angels?
I'm not religious. I believe in God. I believe our body is a shell. When we die it's like a pizza box—take the pizza out of the box it has no meaning, there's nothing in it anymore. The thing that makes us who we are is our soul; our spirit. And sometimes that spirit can linger around for a time.

Who are your clients?
It's a mix, but a lot are the parents with children who have passed, sometimes a brother and a sister. Most often it's people who have had newborns and want to have a deceased grandmother or grandfather in photo as though they got a chance to meet the kid. Or like the grandma is looking down on the newborn from heaven.

What's it been like for you since the news of Ditty's arrest?
Since this came out, it's been a disaster. People say what I do is morbid. It's not morbid: There's nothing dark about it. These photos are made to show respect to the dead—a tribute to dead relatives—and say, "Hey, we know you're always with us."

More from VICE

The Latest