The Fine Art of Visiting

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Perhaps as a result of my semi-southern upbringing, I enjoy visiting. No special occasion is required. You only need the desire to stop by and spend some time with friends and family. It’s a time to catch up on the week. Talk about the events of the day or share information on common acquaintances.

It’s understood that visiting is not a formal occasion. No one is going to wait on you, though visiting often involves food. To underscore that point, the best kind of visiting takes place in the kitchen.

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At the farm, visiting often involves sitting near the wood stove, enjoying its warmth. Debbie and the farmer will be there. So will Sarah, the farm’s official ambassador and mouser.

As the wood pops in the stove’s woodbox, the kettle steams and the conversation ebbs and flows. Laughter punctuates the stories told and comfortable silence gives time for thought and reflection.

Visiting may be an art, but it is not pretentious. It’s democratic. Anyone can participate, even you. Go visit with someone you know and polish up those conversation skills you’ve let become rusty.

Making Sorrow

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Back in December, I met a young woman at the wedding of some friends. A month later, I received a cryptic text message – Are you interested in a new project? Never one to turn down something interesting, I said: “Sure, what do you have in mind?”

I soon learned that her long term relationship had ended and that she wanted me to photograph her while she cried. She saw the project as a cathartic opportunity to get the pain out of her system. My first thought was – What a terribly emotional and painful thing to do. My second thought was – What an amazing opportunity to shoot some very powerful images.

We discussed our vision of how the results would look. Dark. Black and White. Stark contrasts. We decided that the location would be her home. I brought a single light and stand as well as a backdrop. She provided a small chair. I thought the simplicity would focus the viewer on her expressions, making their experience profoundly emotional.

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She had a fear that when we started shooting, she would not be able to cry. However, she had a stack of old post cards and love notes that quickly stirred up the pain inside of her. Crying was not a problem at all.

As a photographer, I was focused on shooting. As a human being, I was very cognizant that just in front of me was a woman in pain. I kept reminding myself that I was there to shoot and not comfort her. She wanted to get those emotions out of her. In the end, when she was emotionally spent and we were finished with the shoot, I did give her a hug.

That’s it. That’s how I shot the most gut wrenching shoot of my career. I am glad that I did it. I am honored that she asked me to be her photographer.

Would I do it again? Yes, I would. Becoming better at what you do often means leaving your comfort zone. It means taking risks and learning from the experience. This was one of those opportunities. I would do it again in a heart beat.

Lunch on the Farm

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Late summer farm lunches make up some of my favorite memories. Baked beans, fresh greens and vegetables,  water melon, pork, and sometimes cake, pie or cookies. The farmer and the hands come in from the fields and the barns to wash up. They’re tired and hungry, but intent on getting to the table.

Chairs and benches scrape the floor and bowls are passed clockwise around the table. At first, there isn’t much talking as they begin to shovel in everything they can get their hands on. But, eventually they slow down and begin to talk. Mostly they tell stories that inevitably lead to laughter and then more stories intended to top the last one. I’m sure there is some truth in each story, but I’m never sure how much to believe. That’s ok. I like the laughter and the good hearted ribbing. The tall tales are the means to a light hearted end.

You’d like these people and you’d enjoy being there. You’d be honored to sit with them and eat their food. Not many people receive an invitation.

Just leave me bit of that cobbler. Yeah, the blackberry. Is that cream? I’ll take some of that too. No thank you, I’ll get my own tea from the pitcher. Would you like me to top you off?

 

Good People

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My mother likes to refer to some folks as good people. Sometimes they are friends and family, other times they are mere acquaintances. The way she says it, you are left with the thought that if these are good people, then there must be bad people as well.

When I think of good people in my mother’s sense, I think of honest, friendly, and hard working folks. The salt of the earth types. You can count on them to do the right thing and to honor their word.

And so it is with John Dunn. He is good people.