Porches, American South
The Porch series was, among other things, another exercise in gaining confidence with photographing strangers. Again I was starting from scratch. And when you start from scratch, you experience this inhibition about invading people’s territory. I was constantly asking myself, “What am I doing here?” and answering in the negative—“I don’t belong here.”
Portraits aren’t necessarily an expression of a sustained relationship.
Portraits are encounters, often awkward and limited in time.
I would drive down a road, see a house, stop my car, and hope that someone would open the door and come outside. I had no idea what I’d say to them. Or I would see someone cooking with a big pot in the middle of their yard, or carrying sticks along the road, or I would see kids sitting on a porch. And a conversation would begin with the fact that I was teaching in the local school and that I came from the North. Then I would begin an exchange that involved taking their picture and later sending them the photograph as a postcard. That was important.
When I first arrived in Lando, I was intrigued by this small town around a cotton mill which had already been closed down. At some point I met the local preacher and proposed to do a project with local teenagers; an idea of gathering an oral and visual history with them.
I taught the kids how to make pictures of their families and neighbors using Polaroids. They would photograph and then collect stories of how families had originally come to Lando, who in the family had left, and what had happened to them. Then we started collecting their family photographs.
The show as held in a small community center. The photographs were hung around the pool tables and on the walls, and we brought the oral histories together into listening stations. This is how the town celebrated the Bicentennial.