By Richard Sayer/staff photographer at The Meadville Tribune
A gentleman sits quietly in his car with the door open, watching a photographer climb on a barrier on the side of Route 322 in Jamestown on a sunny spring afternoon in 2011. The man watches the photographer walk across the road and climb over guide rails looking frustrated and concerned while trying to get a good picture of a bridge.
The man puffs on a cigar firmly clenched between his teeth and gums.
“It’s a nice day for pictures!” he says, getting the photographer’s attention.
The photographer was me.
The man was John Clayton of Jamestown.
I have encounters like these all the time. I often acknowledge the person, make some small talk and go about my business since I’m usually on the tight schedule of a deadline.
But this particular day I wasn’t “feeling it” for the assignment. I wanted to make a really nice photograph of this bridge since it was part of a touching story about a community trying to find some way to pay tribute to one of its lost sons who was killed in the War on Terrorism. But this bridge was unremarkable in many ways and there was no sign saying what the bridge was called currently, nor was there anything that indicated the proposed name change or even the name of the river it crossed. I felt my pictures weren’t doing the story justice and I needed a break.
This man with an interesting face engaging me in conversation was just what I needed. I chatted with him and watched how he kept that cigar in his mouth as he talked. I asked if I could make his portrait.
“I don’t care!” he said and took the cigar out of his mouth.
Well, that’s not what I wanted. Part of what interested me about him was that cigar, but I made a few frames of him and asked his name and where he was from.
I told him he could just be himself and enjoy his cigar since that was what he was doing before I asked him to take a picture.
As he told me the many places he’s lived he began to smoke again and I went back to making pictures.
I asked him about where he smokes and if he minded all the regulations on smoking indoors. I thought his answers were honest and real.
I had no idea at the time that anything would come of this. It was a picture of a guy smoking a cigar in his car on a nice day. There wasn’t really a story there.
Or was there?
I began thinking about how many people I come across every day have these little things to say that I don’t pay close attention to. What if I did? Would I gain a better understanding of people in general, a better understanding of place and perhaps even a better understanding of myself?
I decided that that might very well be worth finding out. I developed this idea called “Folk” in which I would get snippets of information, not full biographies, just some things gleaned from small talk that I could pair up with a portrait of the person. I always feel we gain a better understanding of who we are by looking at photographs.
So we’re starting this occasional feature called “Folk, a series of portraits of people in northwest Pennsylvania on this blog.
I’m not sure where it will go or who I will feature. Serendipity will play an important role.
Above all I want to feature a good photograph and have story that we can relate to in some way knowing this is one of our own people in our community — this is one of us.
If you have a great photo of someone special and can supply a brief write up about what makes them specia, please share with us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Write ups can be one or two sentences or up to 250 words. We'd love to showcase more about our neighbors here in this blog called "Folk."
Buffalo Street Lanes
Katie M. Dewalt Photography