The Urban Landscape: Essays
Primitive Street [McKinnon Family]
The following essay was submitted with the photographs by Gregory H. Cross, Jr. on April 19, 1983.
This documentary photography project is about Charles McKinnon, the McKinnon family and the children of Primitive Street in Durham, North Carolina. Charles Michael McKinnon is a thirteen year old Jr. High School student and has been my 'Little Brother' since the spring of 1982, but my contact with his family and friends has been minimal until recently. The goal I had at the outset of the project was to become more intimately involved with his family and friends in order to represent these people as accurately as possible. This was difficult at first since Charles preferred to spend our time together away from the neighborhood and his parents were uneasy with me around the house. Over the course of the spring of 1983, however, we all became comfortable with each other and the situation and the result is this project.
The McKinnon family is supported by welfare and social security payments. Mr. McKinnon is a retired factory worker and the two oldest sons are unemployed. Mrs. McKinnon runs the household which also consists of David Jr.'s wife anddaughter and Charles. The McKinnon family and the children of Primitive Street are for the most part a playful and friendly group. I am a better person for having known them.
Little Friend, Big Friend
The following essay was submitted with the photographs by Barbara Demarest on April 19, 1983.
This project began, almost by accident. I had planned to photograph a nearby living community, but found most of my weekends taken up with trips to visit my sister, Maureen in Greensboro [N.C.]. Since this is the first year I have had a car, these trips to Greensboro were great escapes from Duke and student-life. At first I began to photograph all the aspects of Maureen's life: her work, her time at home, her times relaxing with friends and her time with her 'little friend', Pam. After printing the first contact sheet with pictures of my Greensboro visit and comparing it to the pictures taken at my "project", I decided to stop terming my photographs of Maureen as "practice" and make them my full fledged project.
What fascinated me most on these junkets was my sister's developing relationship with 'little Pam'. Perhaps I saw remnants of my own childhood in their teasing and playing... Perhaps I saw a troubled child, needing more attention than her struggling parents could give her, perhaps I saw the loneliness of my sister's career-oriented life, whatever it was that I saw, I felt it was important to take a closer look at what was happeningright under my nose.
I had met Pam twice before I began trying to photograph her. She had been excited to meet Maureen's sister, but also jealous that I would be taking some of her time with Maureen away from her. We had a good time, the three of us. The next time I visited Greensboro I tried to take pictures of Pam. Maureen had been a bit difficult to persuade as a model, but Pam was next to impossible, she hid, she turned away and yet she would peek around corners impishly trying to catch my eye. I knew it would only be a matter of time and trust before she would be hamming it up for me. I compromised with Pam by getting her to play with hats or make fun of Maureen and for the next few visits that was the extent of my experience with Pam. In the meantime I tried to capture some of the other aspects of Maureen's life and I hoped at some future point to photograph Pam in her own home or more within her own environment. Luck did not seem to be on my side, however, because on the weekends I spent in Greensboro, it invariably rained or for some other reason we spent a lot of time inside where photographing was limited. Fortunately, I was able to spend a full day with Maureen and Pam later on in the semester and I think it was here that after a semester spent taking pictures, Pam opened up to me and the camera and to people in general.
Pam is a great imitator, she loves to pretend, to play act and to make a lot of noise, next to hide-and seek, imitation is her favorite sport. It was at times like these that I found myself reminiscing about my own childhood, where I, along with my four sisters, acted out all sorts of silly plays and imitated all the grown-ups we knew.
Pam is in the 'little friend' program because she has behavioral problems and difficulty holding her temper and emotions in check. Her ability to make friends with peers and with older people has greatly improved over the past semester. One time I took a friend, Amy to Greensboro, unlike earlier in the semester, Pam was receptive and excited to have "new friends". Friendship has over time become a desirable commodity for Pam, she asked Amy, when she thought I was out of earshot, if "we played together everyday", when Amy answered "yes" she seemed interested in how she could have a friend to play with everyday. This was a different child from the one I had met six months ago. And I think that is evident in the progression of the pictures.
Sally Baker and Friends (Durham, N.C.)
The following photographs were submitted by Robin Epstein.
A Bahama Family
The following essay was submitted with the photographs by Middleton Evans on April 19, 1983.
Driving through Bahama [N.C.] (tobacco, old folks, religion, old-fashioned) one January afternoon, I saw two kids playing in their front yard and decided to meet them. I took several photos, asked a few questions, and moved on in an attempt to meet as many Bahamians as possible. However, little did I realize how important this home was to become for my project, and for myself. To understand Bahama better, I needed to work from the inside out; that is, I needed to develop a closeness with a local family and get their viewpoint. Ironically, I slowly realized that Chris and her two children were as much outsiders to Bahama as I was as a photographer.
The first time I drove through Bahama I was very disappointed; I expected to get great pictures right away, but there were no people in sight. However, I tried again, and my disappointment evolved into an affection. Locals were not cold to me, as I initially expected. Once the barrier was broken; once I made my first friend; I found myself going to Bahama two or three times a week, not because I had to go there, but because I wanted to experience it. It was fascinating to study the sociology of an old-fashioned, small town. Each age group had its own hang-out, and I would spend time at each place, participating in the storytelling. My being a photographer was not a barrier, as nearly everyone I met let me take pictures. However, something was missing in my project: a family in a home environment. That is when I decided to spend time with Chris, her two kids, and her boyfriend.
Chris moved from the West Coast several years ago and settled in Bahama with her two kids, Jennifer and Ronnie, in her boyfriend's (Justin) house. On the whole, Bahama has been an unhappy experience for the three. Chris is a telephone operator here at Duke and she dislikes her job; it's boring. There are hardly any other children for Jennifer and Ronnie to play with, and they are not the best of friends. As for Justin, the three do not consider him part of the family, at least since I've been around; the basic problem is that he is a bully. When Chris gets a day off from work, there are numerous chores to be done- Jennifer helps out a lot -and little time for pleasure. Socially, Chris feels that they are outsiders in Bahama. Hence, there is little, if any, socializing with neighbors. Family trees are deeply rooted in Bahama, so newcomers are always newcomers. Also, Chris has had bad luck with the house; the plumbing has broken down twice, and the first time was last winter, which was nearly unbearable without running water.
So far I have presented the situation as a sad one. Yet there is happiness with the Dorman family: with the animals. The family of three also includes a horse (Rinzac), a goat (Bouck), dog (Max), rabbits, chickens, a pair of turkeys, ducks, two cats, and a lizard. There were not many smiles inside the house, but when the family was outdoors, smiles were frequent.
These animals added joy to their lives; when Justin got rid of Chris' cat, goat, and dog, she decided that it was finally time to leave. Since then, she's been looking for a home closer to Durham, and further from Bahama. My presence as a photographer, and more recently as a good friend, has special meaning for Chris, because I have given her many pictures of the family with the animals, which from now on will only be memories.
As a documentary photographer, I have benefitted from this project. I can appreciate my good fortune and life style more now that I have spent time with less fortunate people. Furthermore, this field work is good experience in dealing with people; half the time I'm taking pictures, and the other half I'm learning about what I've photographed. Just as every picture tells a story, there is a story behind every picture, which may or may not coincide with what the photograph portrays.
A necessary question at the conclusion of a project like my Bahama field work is is what value it is. That is, what value is there beyond the personal rewards of the photographer and the photographed? In short, my project depicts a threatened way of life. Urbanization is creeping towards Bahama; within a mile of the town, there is a housing development, and right next to the Gulf Station is a modernized grocery store, which is taking away almost all of the business of the Parrish Service Station and Grocery (in the same photograph). Furthermore, within the time frame of my project, the Dormans have decided to abandon their relatively old-fashioned, country lifestyle for a suburban one. Older people remaining to die with the town and the younger people moving out, Bahama has upheld its tradition, though commercialism and urbanization are slowly eroding it.
Dan River Runs Deep
The following essay was submitted with the photographs by Virginia B. Gunnells on April 21, 1983.
"What an exciting world ahead of me in January 1983!"
As an American housewife and having read a history of this 100 year old company, I was aware of the many products created and manufactured by Dan River. However, I was not fully prepared for the overwhelming impact of that first visit to a plant in full operation. The constant activity, energy and feeling of productivity is indescribable. Unfortunately (or fortunately), the noise, the vibration, the heat and steam present in some areas are not altogether apparent in the photographs.
Dan River, Inc. came into being because four men wished to capture and utilize the power of a significant natural resource, the Dan River.
The basic fabrics have changed little since their beginning. They are the ginghams, plaids, denims and fabrics of everyday America. However, as with any progressive industry, they have expanded their markets and now also manufacture some "designer" sheets and higher quality of shirting.
Dan River does it all! They card, spin, weave, dye and sew. Most of their employees have been there for years, as were their parents before them. Benefits and working conditions have constantly improved, to the benefit of both employer and employee. Ear plugs, goggles and masks are required for significant amounts of time on each eight-hour shift regardless of even minimal risk that a specific job may extend to an employee. One major feature of the success of the operation is the importance attributed to the smallest and seemingly most insignificant job, thereby evolving into a highly distinctive finished product.
In representing the American work place, Dan River, Inc. truly covers all aspects. I have tried to show the steps involved from breaking open the bales to sewing on the ruffles. You may not see the noise and feel the tremors in the old structures or appreciate all the sleek newer operations but I hope you will see and feel the pride in doing a job well that is felt by these American workers.
Introduction: The Governor Morehead School
The following essay was submitted with the photographs by Kevin S. Hart on April 19, 1983. These photographs were taken in January, February, and March of 1983 at the Governor Morehead School in Raleigh, North Carolina. The Governor Morehead School is a school for handicapped, andlearning and emotionally disabled kids. Many of the children who attend are blind. They range in age from kindergarten to high school. Many will get out into mainstream society after graduation; others will not. It is an amazing place.
These photographs were taken in conjunction with Mr. Bill Bamberger's documentary photography course at Duke University in the spring of 1983.
Couch's Kwik-Kar Wash, Durham, N.C.
The following photographs were submitted by Wendy Jacobs in Spring 1983.
The Byrd Family; A Photographic Study
The following essay was submitted with the photographs by Carol S. Jennings in Spring 1983.
This course in documentary photography presented many challenges; the most interesting being my attempt to explore through photography the challenges that the Byrd family face. The individuals in this family seemed distant to one another, but I found that that was very much the function of the closeness of life in a duplex in which their [sic] are great demands on everyone. The Byrd family extends beyond the house, including people that rarely stop by, but rely on the social and sometimes material support of the four individuals who live there. Lane's sister works more than full-time as a waitress, and as a divorced woman with two children to take care of, she often leaves both her laundry and her children at the house. The entire family is supporting her effort to find a new, and wealthy, husband; the benefits of such a match would be shared with all of the extended family. Aunt Becky, who has cerebral palsy, doesn't have a job, thus she acts as the homemaker for the group. Becky cleans, feeds, and disciplines the children whether or not the parents are around.
The children, Donna and her cousin Nora, introduce racial tension through their constant presence at the playground, Walltown Park, which separates their house from the adjacent black neighborhood. Their friend Natalie is tolerated by the adults, but they prefer that she not come into the house. An incident in which a black teenager threatened to shoot Donna with a BB gun led Lane to admonish the girls to stay on "their" side of the playground. Donna and Nora remain confused about the problem because their normal interaction with black children doesn't seem harmful or different.
Becoming a friend of Donna's was a process which continually reminded me of the fragility of character of young people. Donna is twelve, a not yet budding woman, suffering through the pre-teen years. She sometimes tries to be a lady, putting on fancy earrings, demanding to wear stockings, and walking awkwardly with a sophisticated look. But treated like a child by her parents and teachers, and often feeling like a child, she becomes obnoxiously hyperactive and runs down to the playground or rummages through the garage. In this transitional state, it is hard to catch her at ease, because it is hard for her to know who she is trying to be at the moment. Reflective and private times usually end in the adoption of one role or the other. Unlike her younger cousin, she is no longer comfortable with either. Dressing up and acting old is no longer playing, and having juvenile fun at the playground is becoming "playing" the role of a child.
What to Do in Saxapahaw [Ernest Cagle]
The following essay was submitted with the photographs by Mac Jordan on April 19, 1983.
Choosing an interesting community to study was easy for me. My home town of Saxapahaw [N.C.] is located in thesouthern part of Alamance County twenty minutes southwest of Chapel Hill. This mill village of about five hundred people where I grew up is a place I will always cherish. I'm so glad that this class gave me an opportunity to learn more about my home town and to get to know the people who have been a part of my life better.
The first person I decided to visit was Jack Paris. Jack's general store is one of the traditional gathering places in Saxapahaw. I've been going to the combination grocery store/gas station since I was a kid. The same building houses a laudry mat and a beauty parlor. I can still remember trips to the old barber shop, the huge chair, the giant bib, the the smell of hair tonic, and a treat afterwards are pictures of the past. But Jack and his store have remained the same.
Jack is one of the dearest people I have ever known. He is always friendly. After a short visit he'll smother you with a "bear hug" and a kiss on the cheek. He never hesitates to give you advice or "quote" from the Bible a verse he wants you to hear. Not one to forget certain things, he frequently reminds me of the time he saw me sit down to eat without saying the blessing.
Another person who frequently gives me advice (about life, religion, drinking, and girls) is my neighbor Ernest Cagle. I've known Ernest all my life. During the summer, he would always bring my mother fresh vegetables from his garden. She'd get a bushel of beans so we could snap them before she started canning. Oh, and we couldn't pass up his juicy tomatoes or his giant cabbages.
Two summers ago I worked with Ernest painting houses. I would go over to his house during lunch and he'd give me a cucumber or tomato sandwich and a sixteen ounce Pepsi. I loved to listen to his stories of when he was my age. His adventures in the service, the places he had been, the people (girls) he had known fascinated me. I started to wonder who enjoyed the conversations more--me or him. Those short, infrequent visits were not enough. I wanted to know what he did day-to-day, the places he went, his family life, and what he did at home.
At seventy years of age, Ernest remains pretty active. When he doesn't have any work to do or when he doesn't feel well enough to work, he goes up to Jack's to pass the time, visit people, dip snuff, and play cards. When it's warm, he works part time doing yard work, odd jobs, and painting houses. He makes about four hundred dollars a month. On weekends and holidays during the winter he works as a security guard down at the textile mill where Mildred, his wife, works full-time. The cold weather makes his arthritis and bronchitis act up, but in the summer he still grows the best vegetables around.
In the evening, Ernest stretches out on the couch, dips some snuff, and watches television. Mildred, tired from a hard days work, joins him in front of the tube. A strong feeling of love and admiration still exists between them. They have each other and their daughter who visits pretty frequently. We talk for hours about what I should do and what he did when he was young. I've learned about his days, his past, his tiredness, and his loneliness. Sharing his time and his storages has meant a lot to me. It showed me a lifestyle. I know how much elderly people need attention, love, and respect. That's what I tried to give Ernest in return for his stories, his company, and some pictures.
The Ivy Room
The following essay was submitted with the photographs by Donna Lennard in April 1983.
The Ivy Room Restaurant has been a Durham landmark since 1945. A devotion to good home cooking and friendly service at affordable prices has attracted Durham residents, Duke students and visitors alike over the past 38 years. All of us who frequent the Ivy Room are accustomed to a warm greeting from Pop, the restaurant's "founding father," who ushers us into the dining room where we are greeted by the friendly, often familiar faces that line the walls, not to mention the employees who have been with Pop for as long as we can remember.
In spending a good deal of time photographing this past semester at the Ivy Room, however, I have had the opportunity to explore behind the scenes; to get to know the employees outside of their designated roles as waitress, hostess, cook, etc., and to realize the long hours of hard work that go into pulling off the friendly atmosphere and good food. More than that I have had the opportunity to share in the warmth and friendship that is evidenced among these people who share a devotion to their work as well as to one another.
The Ivy Room is for me, an American workplace built upon tradition and hard work. Although the ownership has changed several times over the years the clientele returns year after year to "Pop's place," where Frieda and Dot will invariably serve them, and where they can always count on a good meal among friends.
North Mangum Street
The following essay was submitted with the photographs by Doug Mankoff on April 19, 1983.
"Chickens with boots," he promised. Across the street I would find a woman who raised "chickens that have boots on their feet." Anyone who would dress her chickens in boots, I decided, would be interesting to photograph. Of course I was disappointed when I arrived at Miss Murray's house to see that she had not dressed her chickens in boots. However, I did not leave.
Miss Murray does not let her location on busy Mangum Street in Durham keep her from raising farm animals. Her neighborhood is set off by downtown to the south and by a wealthy white neighborhood to the north. In addition to raising various pets, Miss Murray raises three grown daughters and an ungrown grandson, Sherman.
When I told Sherman I wanted to photograph his family, he thought I was crazy. In the past I had only stayed in the neighborhood long enough to pick up Tim, my Durham little brother. But neither Sherman nor his family seemed to mind my increased presence.
On the way to the local store to play video games with Tim and Sherman, I inquired about an old man sitting alone in the grass. "Oh, that's just Horace. He's drunk." Shauna, the omnipresent five-year old expressed similar disinterest with the drunk: "You don't want to take his picture. Take a picture of me!"
One Sunday I was sitting out on the lawn with the Murrays when a sermon came on the gospel radio station we were listening to. "We need to establish our identity as a people," the preacher declared. Looking around, I noticed no reaction from the others. No one showed any concern for the issues brought up in the sermon. I think everyone was pleased to hear the music resume.
I was not shocked at all when I finally saw the boots on Miss Murray's chickens. The chickens were unlike any I had seen before, but once I actually saw them, I learned that they weren't very different. The boots were only growths of feather which this breed of chicken had naturally developed.
The following essay was submitted with the photographs by Perry A. Mathis and Alfred Lee Seward III on September 23, 1983.
These are photographs of Wanchese, N.C., taken during the summer of 1982. Since the first colonization of America, Wanchese has been a thriving fishing village, sending her many boats out nearby Oregon Inlet and into the excellent fishing waters which lay beyond. In the pas several decades, however, her precious inlet has been slowly closing. Efforts to push back the forces of nature have left a channel barely wide enough for the large trawlers to pass through, but these efforts have been extremely expensive. Several months ago, James Watt indicated that it was doubtful that the federal government would continue to finance the project.
Now the docks can at times be so still it is scary. Many of the big boats have moved to new harbours to avoid running aground in the treacherous inlet. Many of the younger fishermen leave their homes for months at a time, lending themselves out to a large New England boat. For those who stay on, a look of sad boredom prevails. However, the spirit of the people of Wanchese is fierce, and it will be difficult to keep them down for long.
At the Eckerd's Counter
The following essay was submitted with the photographs by Laura McAllister on April 21, 1983.
The first time I observed the other customers from my seat at the Eckerd's counter, I saw many different faces; some bored, some sad, none of them seemingly connected. But it wasn't long before I discerned that there is a group of regulars who frequent Eckerd's at various times throughout the day.
These retired and semi-retired men come to Eckerd's not because of the food or ambiance, but out of a need to occupy themselves. At first this realization struck me as terribly sad because I saw nothing beyond the men's loneliness. But after having gotten to know them, I realized that they don't feel sorry for themselves; therefore, there was no reason for me to. These men live to the best of their ability. All who are physically able continue to work--Ralph at the mill, Ector for Duke Laundry, Riley at the Rock Shop And whether they work or not, they plan their days. Woody watches a lot of television. Wimpy takes long walks. Ector goes fishing. Riley tends his garden.
What ties these men together is the time they spend at Eckerd's. It is the only place in West Durham where they can sit down next to a familiar face and be greeted warmly by waitresses as loving as Dot and Kathryn.
Yet despite the camaraderie shared among these men and the contentment with their lives illustrated in some of the pictures, there remains a sad element in thefaces of the individuals that is also captured on film. Perhaps it is because their lives are slower paced than most that these men appear to feel and express more, whether the emotion be happy or sad. For whatever reason, elder people, much like children, possess a rich quality of expression which many of us seem to lack in our middle years.
The mannerisms and characteristics of the men I photographed at Eckerd's fascinated me from the very beginning and getting to know them has been a joy. The photographs have been an additional reward.
Excelsior's Barber Shop
The following essay was submitted with the photographs by Lauren Mitchell in Spring 1983.
I can't say quite why I chose Excelsior's as my project for documentary photography; or indeed why I even chose a barber shop at all. One day, having visions of an "Andy Griffith" type scenario, I went driving around Durham. Hitting downtown, my eye happened to catch a glimpse of the chipped off remnants of "Excelsior Barber Shop." On a whim, I decided to stop, and found myself petrified at the reality of what I was doing. Once inside, everybody stopped to look at me — I was the only white in a very black establishment. I thought better of my desire to run for the door, walked up to Sam, the owner, and explained who I was and why I was there. He immediately consented to my photographing, and I proceeded to sit down in a corner to observe, and see how I was received. Feeling likea fool, I stayed all of five minutes that day.
Camera in hand, I returned the next day to begin the semester's work. As one would expect, I encountered uneasiness, timidity, and apprehension with both the barbers and the customers. But by talking with them, explaining my project and trying to act casual, I gradually befriended them. My pictures became warmer, more revealing and more insightful. I soon felt very comfortable, but it wasn't until I started to bring in my photos that I felt the feeling was reciprocated. I think being able to see what was actually coming out on film, and thus satisfying their curiosity about me, helped to erase that last trace of skepticism.
Now I feel as if I could walk in anytime, have a conversation with Koo or Sam or Howard, and feel perfectly natural. Sure there were awkward times; questions and propositions that I didn't know quite how to handle; but I know that they except [sic] me for what I am, and feel rather special having been my "subjects"! An added benefit is that Excelsior's has been targeted to go in order to make way for the new Durham Civic Center. Now at least they will all have something to remember the old place by.
What I have learned from this project goes much deeper than just the technical aspects of photography. Not only have I realized what can be captured and shown with a camera, but I've also discovered a new way to express feelings and attitudes. I've broadened my understanding of others and myself, and I've learned to view everyday happenings in a different light. Most of all, I've gained an appreciation for documentary photography and what it has to offer.
The Tilley Family
The following essay was submitted with the photographs by David Palay on April 19, 1983.
I stumbled upon the Tilley family on my way home from a rather unsuccessful photo session with another Durham family. My initial attraction to this household was the front yard which reminded me of a small carnival; encircled by a white picket fence was a mini-Ferris wheel, a rotating bird feeder, two large pagodas, an out house as well as two complete residences. When I approached the door to ask if I could take a few pictures, I was happy to find an elderly couple who acted as if they had been expecting me all along. Erskine, a retired carpenter, eagerly showed me around the yard while telling me about his many creations. After this brief tour, Cornelia invited us in for coffee and a look at the family photo album. We laughed at the many pictures of young Erskine who looked like the famous mobster, John Dillinger. When I left that day I knew I had stumbled upon something special.
During the months that followed, I was privileged to meet the Tilley's children and many grandchildren. The most exciting thing I witnessed was the amount of love shared by this family. There was an extreme amount of affection and touching between family members. Perhaps the most meaningful picture to me is " on the way to a family portrait". Here, many hands are extended to help Cornelia along. Even more of a testament to the nature of this family was the good times they shared together. Family outings were not only a time for closeness, but for fun loving actitities, too.
Perhaps the most enjoyable part of this semester was my interaction with the Tilley's. 0ften they would remind me of the little formal education they received, yet they knew more about how to live one's life than any education could possibly provide. Their sense of independence from the outside world, their sense of true community with their neighbors, and their sense of family love and devotion were all qualities which I truely admired and learned from. But the most heart warming experience for me this semester was seeing the love that Cornelia and Erskine shared for each other. It was a pleasure to leave the Duke community each week and spend time with such a warm and loving family.
"Men At Work" [Durham Sanitation Dept. Workers]
The following essay was submitted with the photographs by Llevelyn Rhone in Spring 1983.
This project attempts to show the everyday work of the garbage man. The sanitation workers here in Durham are men and women that [sic] take pride in their work. In photographing the workers, I found them to be warm, friendly and cooperative. They were always willing to share a whimsical anecdote or lend a bit of worldly advice.
The knowledge that I gained could not and cannot be learned in any school. Here at Duke it is all to easy to get caught up in the society created on campus and forget about the outside world.
Although I encountered numerous problems and disappointments during the course of the project, I attempted to overcome them and come up with a personal statement that is my representation of men and women who provide a invaluable community service.
The Durham Public Safety Department
The following essay was submitted with the photographs by Lansing C. Scriven in Spring 1983.
The Police and Fire Departments of Durham are consolidated into one unit. The Durham Public Safety Department.
Therefore, it is no longer possible for persons to train only for the fire or police department because all candidates must be trained in both police and fire protection. I worked with the Public Safety Officers at Fire Station no. 3 located onthe east side of Durham. Due to misfortune, I was only able to work on this project for about three weeks. However, people at the station made me feel welcome and helped rile out a great deal. Especially helpful were Cap Lyon, Percy, Catfish, and Supples.
Most of all though, I would like to thank 14 year-old Jerry Thornton. Thornton is the adolescent pictured in the back of the patrol car and also handcuffed in the magistrate's office. When I first took Jerry's photograph, he vehemently protested. In fact, all he would do was give me the finger, curse me, and even threaten to kill me. He insisted that he didn't want his picture taken, but I of course, paid him no attention.
As the day wore on, I finally got the chance to explain to Jerry what I was doing. We became friends, and even exchanged telephone numbers even though we'll probably never see each other again. Jerry did teach me a lesson though. I learned that sensitivity is always important when photographing others. Throughout this course, that had been my entire hangup. I never could understand why photographers were so eager to photograph the poor, the unfortunate, and the deprived. Yet, when I had this chance, I jumped at the opportunity also. It taught me a lot. Thanks Jerry.
[Costa Pariza, Butte, Mont.]
The following essay was submitted with the photographs by Alison Seevak.
I met Costa on a hot June day when we happened to share the same shady spot by the wall of the Butte [Mont.] post office. Later, I find thatit is a spot he often frequents, a stop on the walk he takes three times a day or so, the large circle from his room in the Miners' Apartments, down Park St., up Montana, over to Granite, down Main, back to Park.
He is George to most people; the women who serve him toast and coffee from behind the counter at the Ben Franklin Five and Ten, the men who share the bus stop bench and the wait for nothing in particular on the corner of Park and Main, and the bartender at the Sportsman Bar who pours his 7-Ups some afternoons. But because I tell him about my Roumanian great-grandfather, he introduces himself to me as Costa Pariza, what his Roumanian parents called him when he was born 95 years ago in Macedonia.
In his wallet he carries a small map torn from the Montana Standard. He is disappointed when he finds that I don't speak Roumanian but he treats me to fruit punches at the Ben Franklin and sometimes shows me his map, Macedonia carefully circled in pencil.
He is a tiny man, 5 feet tall or so. He owns two suits and two felt hats and wears one of each every day. He has lived in the same small tidy room at the Miners' Apartments for years. He has few possessions; a wrought iron bed fills most of the room, the hat not worn rests on a shelf, white towels hang neatly on a rack by the sink, a color picture of the Virgin Mary sits on his bureau.He is strong. On the days when I follow him up the three flights of stairs to his room, it is me who ends up slightly breathless. The powerful, veined hands that look so incongruous with the rest of him seem restless, handling coffee cups, newspapers.
In 1907, he came to Butte to work in the copper mines. He likes to remind me that he worked the mines until he was 66, a year past retirement. Some days we walk up Main St., up the hill, toward the still standing head frames of mines he once worked. He talks about days when hecould drink a quart of whiskey, when the mines and streets hummed with women and men speaking many languages, some like the Mediterranean ones he speaks. Always he talks of work, of working. As a herder on a sheep ranch in Bozeman, as a soldier stationed in Washington State, in the San Francisco shipyards. Cold rides hopped on freight trains between those jobs with a friend, his "partner," Ara Harris ("American born but a good man.") who worked beside him for many years. He talks of moving to Seattle. "There is nothing here," he shakes his head, "It's not like it used to be."
Sometimes we buy Keno tickets at the M and M Bar and watch the board, hoping that the numbers we have penciled in will light up. They never do. He eats his meals, sees his friends, spends most of his time between his walks at the M and M. But when we drink beer or 7-Up, we cross the street, go to the Sportsman. "Too rough for you," Costa says.
One Sunday we go in his friend Roy's pick-up truck to visit the World Museum of Mining. Not too many people visit Butte these days but the Museum is crowded, all the same. Costa weaves among the groups of people with cameras who have come to see Butte as it was in the old days. He looks at the old Chinese laundry, the model church, the schoolhouse, the saloon. He pats pieces of machinery he is sure he once worked with.
On the way back he insists that Ray drive us to the Scandia Bar, near the house where I live, the "Finn bar." He worries that it is not safe for me to walk home after we finish our beers and offers to walk with me. "Finn town is not safe," he says. Roy smiles, but I'm not sure if it is because the neighborhood hasn't been Finnish for years or if it's the idea of Costa protecting me.
We lose two dollars playing Keno the night before I leave Butte. He's not too happy. The new shoes he bought at an end of the summer sale make his feet sore and he must wear his bedroom slippers. In front of the M and M we say good-bye. He squeezes my hands in his, gives me three small chunks of copper wrapped in kleenex that he has put in a band-aid tin. We wave good-bye, head down Main St. in different directions. I don't turn around but know he's gone back into the M and M to lose a few more dollars at Keno, and perhaps to smile at whoever sits next to him and talk of his plans to move to Seattle.