I ran into my old friend Dee Dee at the Doctor’s office in Weaverville. We see each other pretty often, mostly at the grocery store so it was good visiting with her in an unexpected setting. But seeing her reminded me of a photograph I made of her when she was not yet a teenager and I was but a very young man. I had recently seen it on a contact sheet while looking through images for a next project.
As I age, as is the case with a lot of us seniors, my memory isn’t what it used to be. People’s names are especially difficult and I struggle to remember song and book titles, or when I did specific things.
My photographs have been my saving grace in that regard. I can go back through contact sheets and prints and remember where I was, what I was doing, who I was with, the time of year, the clothes people were wearing. Memory, of course, is one of photography’s great
gifts to us.
So, when I came across this photograph of Dee Dee, it took me right back to that summer of 1977 in Sodom when I moved in with Dellie Norton, Dee Dee’s great-grandmother. Dee Dee and I saw each other often then, most every day, and the portrait took me back to who we were 42 years ago, and who we’ve become since. Good memories, hard memories, memories that make us smile, others that
make us cry.
To quote Washington Irving in 1809 and Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1830, It was a dark and stormy night. To which I would add, “and it was a little bit foggy, too.”
I saw the two women from across the street from where I was standing. I wanted to make their picture. But how?
I was taking a beginning course in photography at the time and had already identified the type of photographs I wanted to make - pictures that might make a difference in the world, pictures that could be tools for social change. But I had no idea of how to make those kind of photographs.
I was a shy person and had no idea of how to approach people different from me, how to gain access to their lives. So I became adept at hiding in the bushes, stealing images with a tele-photo lens. My instructor, whose name I can’t remember, called me on it. “What are you afraid of?” He asked. “Why are you hiding?” “I don’t know,” I answered. “Perhaps myself.”
I walked across the street to the two women. I said hello and asked about them, where they lived, and who they were. They were old friends who hadn’t seen each other for awhile, They’d both lived in Tucson their entire lives and known each other for most of that time. “May I make a photograph of you?” “Of course,” they answered in unison, drawing close to each other in an expression of intimacy I couldn’t have directed, or stolen.
A wonderful day with a new friend.
When I started going up to Sodom to visit with Dellie Norton in 1975, I was initially drawn to the old people - their wrinkled and wizened faces, their knowledge, their many kindnesses - and I photographed them to the exclusion of everyone else. It was my friend John Rountree who suggested that I was missing a lot by just concentrating on the elders, focusing on a dying culture while mostly ignoring that culture’s evolution, as evidenced in its young people. It was good advice.
I first photographed Clinton when he was six years old. He was Dellie’s grandson, the youngest son of Dellie’s youngest daughter Mary, and her husband, AB. They lived right down the road from Dellie’s and Clinton and his sisters and their cousins were always around the community and at Dellie’s. I photographed them a lot. Even then, it was evident that most of the young people had inherited the music and storytelling genes. They have the gift.
Clinton lives in south Asheville now with his wife and five-year old son. He has three daughters from a first marriage. We don’t see each other often. So, I took the opportunity the other night to go to a local restaurant to hear him play with his band Shooting Creek who play a nice mix of vintage country covers. Clinton has traded his guitar for a drum kit, at least with the band, but sings and plays acoustic guitar when he does solo gigs around town.
We had a nice catch-up visit, talking about our kids, wives, work. “I’m gonna be fifty years old this July,” he said. “I’ve been doing this music thing for a long time.”
“I know you have,” I said. “I’ve got the picture to prove it.”
Do not come to this museum and expect to leave unaffected. It is devastating.
I’m so proud to be a part of this remarkable exhibit of Southern Photography at the College of Charleston in South Carolina. Some absolute luminaries of Southern imagemakers.
This is my photograph titled, “Cricket’s Birthday Party at Old Ground Farm, Big Pine, Maeison County,, NC