I was out for dinner and drinks Friday night with a group of my wonderful girlfriends. We were snapping photos of ourselves and I think each one of us complained about the way we looked in them. All around the table sat our I-phones, cameras, gadgets and after a discussion about the crazy direction this world is going, I commented to my friends about the shallow nature of conversations and media. Weight loss, plastic surgery, teeth whitening, tanning, are at the forefront of this out of control, perfection-obsessed culture. If we are headed in the direction of that god awful movie "Simone", I'm not sure I want to tread on.
In my industry especially, the more beautiful the subject, the easier it makes the photographer's job. Sites like Model Mayhem allow aspiring models to get their photograph taken and amateur photographers a chance to practice shooting models. Perfect trade off. The problem is, so what? We all love to look at beautiful photos. I love to shoot beautiful weddings and gorgeous details. The problem with all these images though, and I can attest as a bride a couple of years ago, is making the correlation between real and fantasy.
I've decided to shoot a series called "Scratching the surface" where I photograph real people with real problems and lives and document it in photo and prose. Although I love the photojournalistic style of shooting unknowing subjects, I am a writer first, photographer second. A small interview and photo session allows me to, exactly as the name suggests, just scratch the surface of somebody we all make assumptions about, but never take the time to dig deeper.
Meet Barry. I had the pleasure of being acquainted with this wonderful soul when I second shot a wedding a few hours north of here. Barry is the proud owner of a magical estate and a gorgeous fairytale property that sends the imagination in a tailspin of what used to and could also be. I had visions of Great Gatsby inspired parties of grandeur. I saw Barry manicuring his hedges, on a 40 degree July afternoon, with a kitchen knife and a pair of scissors. His face and hands looked worn, his eyes kind and tired.
He looked slightly hesitant when I asked if I could photograph the inside of his beautiful home.
He was evasive about his story. He declined my request to purchase a piece of furniture for my collection. There were seven fireplaces, I counted a few pianos, endless amounts of settees and chairs draped in heavy luxurious fabric. As my eyes darted around quickly, I was trying to size up his story. There were so many books about music. Even more books about Physicians and surgery. Who was this man? What was his life like? What memories were made in this home?
There was an aroma in the air of past wealth and glory that had since been replaced with the smell of a hard working and dishevelled gentleman. I waved goodbye, gave Barry a hug and he grinned with his toothless smile and kind eyes reminding me to come back again for any type of photo shoot I had in mind. This hidden treasure has been the host of small weddings and the only thing Barry requests, is enough of a donation to pay hired help to cut the grass on the sprawling property.
When I entered the property, it was Barry who met me. You could tell he worked hard by the marks on his hands, with cuts and scars to prove it. His clothes were tattered and worn yet he was proud and friendly and happy to share his property. The first thoughts that popped in my head quickly faded away after talking to him. There was more to this man than the clothes on his back and the large estate he inherited. He had a story to tell, only nobody to share it with. His mother was long gone, leaving behind the property and the countless stories that went with it. He had a voice and someone finally ready to hear it.
Barry is the kind of person I hope to meet on this new journey. Someone too shy or scared to tell their story. Someone with a dream and hopes like the rest of us but lacking the wherewithal to find it. With some work and a bit of luck, I know I'll be able to find someone else like Barry to share an afternoon with for a little conversation, a listening ear and a couple of no fuss simple photographs. A gentle, lost soul looking to shine.