When I became a newspaper photographer, I was sure my press pass was bulletproof and I thought my camera lens was a magic shield that protected me from the things that my camera was recording. It was only years later, that I discovered that the lens wasn’t a shield, it was a magnifying glass that etched a movie deep into my memories, a movie that often plays when most normal folks are asleep.
Most of the time I’m the guy Paul Simon sings about in I Am A Rock.
I’ve built walls
A fortress deep and mighty,
That none may penetrate…
I touch no one and no one touches me.
I am a rock. I am an island.
And a rock feels no pain;
And an island never cries.
An auction caused a crack in the wall
Friend Shari Stiver and I were headed up to Tower Rock in Perry County when we stumbled across a yard sale. The folks there said we might like to stop at a home auction going on about a block up the road. I’m not going to mention where it was, because it’s not important and I don’t want to invade anyone’s privacy. They said the owners were a well-regarded elderly couple getting on in age who decided to sell their home and possessions to move into a smaller place.
The auctioneer was moving rapidly through small lots of odds and ends, having to work hard to get a $5 or $6 bid. When he finished, he invited everyone to step inside the modest little house to look at the furniture before he moved on to the farm equipment. The man was noted for restoring antique tractors, we were told.
Childish artwork struck me
There wasn’t much to look at inside. I was going to suggest to Shari that we get back on the road when we walked into a bedroom and I saw these scrawled pieces of art probably done by a grandchild. I made three half-hearted exposures. The light was lousy and the color balance was funky. It didn’t feel like a situation that was going to make a picture good enough to work any harder.
For the record, I love shooting old, abandoned buildings. I don’t believe in ghosts, but I can feel vibrations from the folks who have passed through those places.
THIS building wasn’t abandoned enough for my taste. I felt something looking at those pictures on the wall that caused me to suddenly tell Shari I had to get out of there.
When Shari and I walked back to the car, I didn’t tell her how those scrawled pictures hit me. All I told her was that John Cougar Mellancamp’s Rain On The Scarecrow, the story of a family farm being auctioned off, was playing in my head:
” When you take away a man’s dignity”
Sometimes I hear her singing, “Take Me to the Promised Land.”
When you take away a man’s dignity and he can’t work his land and cows,
There’ll be blood on the scarecrow, blood on the plow.
Maybe the end is closer than the beginning
Over some fine Italian dishes that evening at Mario’s Pasta House, Shari volunteered that maybe we’re getting to the point in our lives where we’re starting to see the end more clearly than the beginning (my paraphrase). Maybe I saw those photos on the old couple’s wall and flashed on Grandson Malcolm’s scrawled artwork for his grandmother on OUR refrigerator.
Should I write about it?
Tonight I pulled up the 500+ frames I shot today and tried to decide what I was going to put in the blog for Sunday. All of the other photos neatly filed away under geographical categories: Tower Rock; Cemetery near Dutchtown; old barn near Egypt Mills…
When I got down to the three frames from the auction, I almost deleted them, something I hardly ever do. I pulled them up on the screen and felt a wave of emotion sweep over me. I called Wife Lila back in Florida and said, “I’ve got a photo that I think I’m going to run, but I don’t know if I should.” I tried to give her the 25-word-or-less version, but found my voice cracking. Finally, she said, “If it touches you, maybe it’ll touch someone else.”
So, here it is. We’ll be back in the fortress tomorrow and all will be well again.