04 February 2009

They'll zip you up and dress you down and stand you in a row, but you know you don't have to, you can just say no

Jarrod and Thomas, Pulaski, VA

We had decent weather this past Sunday, and I had my first opportunity in months to photograph Pulaski, one of my favorite places to photograph (and where I now call home). Inspired in part by Tema Stauffer's recent portraits of young men around Binghamton, NY and Austin, TX, I decided to ask some of the people I met while walking if I could photograph them. When I first started taking photos I routinely photographed people, but for the last year or so I mostly haven't asked anyone. Now that I'm in Pulaski, though, I plan to use photography as a way to get to know the place and the people who live there better. At some point, I may get some of the people to write or tell me stories that I can include with the photos on the blog.

I met the two teenagers above during the first 1/2 mile or so of my walk. They seemed somewhat concerned when I asked them if I could photograph them, and in general they were kind of quiet and shy. I would've liked to learn more about them, but I didn't want to press it. Later in the day I saw them skateboarding off a loading dock behind one of the old buildings in town. I thought about approaching them, maybe offering to take photos of their skateboarding moves and give them prints. I probably should have, but I suppose I'm kind of shy, too. And I didn't want to make them uncomfortable by suddenly reappearing, a mile or so down the road from where I had initially photographed them.

I met several other folks while walking, but most of them didn't want to be photographed. One particulary interesting guy who declined my request was leaning back against a block of concrete outside Budget Inn, smoking a cigarette and drinking a Full-Throttle energy drink while he waited for a taxi. He was wearing faded jeans, a harley-davidson t-shirt featuring a scantily clad lady leaning over a motorcyle, and a truckstop dreamcatcher for a necklace. He was a big guy, probably about 6' 2" or so, and his long silver hair was pulled back into a pony tail. When I asked if I could take his photo, he gave me a quick, incredulous glance and replied,"Heelll No. Have you watched America's Most Wanted lately?" I believe he was joking, but I wasn't entirely sure. I talked to the guy (I never did get his name) for 10 minutes or so, but I didn't say much. Mostly he talked and I nodded my head. I would've liked to ask him about the dreamcatcher...maybe another day.

The photo above--and the others I took--didn't turn out all that well.In hindsight, I should've had the boys stand somewhere with a little less behind them to distract. I should've also probably used a shallower depth-of-field and stood a little closer to draw attention to the boys, and it's undoubtedly obvious I didn't shoot the photo in black and white. After I looked at the shot on the computer, however, I decided I liked it better with the black/white conversion (even though there's almost no tonal range). All of the shortcomings of my own shots make me appreciate photographers who do portraits well all the more.

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