This is Otis… he’s a photographer from Virginia. We met today at the Conowingo Dam in Maryland where we were both photographing the bald eagles that congregate there in the winter.

Truth be told, with my little lens, I was mostly photographing the other people that were photographing the eagles…

Talk about camera envy!

I hesitate to call anyone I met today a stranger… there’s a certain camaraderie that exists naturally among birders and others who enjoy the outdoors. I do know, however, that many of us prefer to remain behind the lens. Otis was an exception to that and I was glad for his smile (and to know that much of his set-up, intimidating as it looks, is homemade and affordable.)

More about the eagles in another post.

This photo is #2 in my 100 strangers project. Find out more about the project and see pictures taken by other photographers at Flickr 100 Strangers or www.100Strangers.com

Praise and thanksgiving

“Praise the light of late November,
the thin sunlight that goes deep in the bones.
Praise the crows chattering in the oak trees;
though they are clothed in night, they do not despair.
Praise what little there’s left:
the small boats of milkweed pods, husks, hulls,
shells, the architecture of trees.
Praise the meadow of dried weeds:
yarrow, goldenrod, chicory,
the remains of summer.
Praise the blue sky that hasn’t cracked.
Praise the sun slipping down behind the beechnuts,
praise the quilt of leaves that covers the grass:
Scarlet Oak, Sweet Gum, Sugar Maple.
Though darkness gathers,
praise our crazy fallen world;
it’s all we have, and it’s never enough.”
Barbara Crooker – Radiance

The king is dead* and the chessboard reshuffles uncomfortably

Dear Powers-That-Be,

First off, can you just concentrate your energies on leaving well-enough alone, please?
You know, like, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?
We’d been at it this way for many, many years before you found yourself promoted and will be left with the legacy of your poor decisions for many, many years after you retire.
(We all might sympathize with your unspoken desire to leave some mark before you fade away into the sunset, but screwing around with a unit that for years has been a *high performer* makes no sense. We’re not doing it wrong, for godsakes!)
Secondly, if you must insist on change for its own sake, please respect us enough to ask for our input. We and our clients will be directly affected by your penny-wise and pound-foolish decisions.
And if you think, as you seem to, that our clients don’t need the direct, hands-on services of a social worker, well… it’s been entirely too long since you’ve done fieldwork yourself.
Spend an afternoon with one of us on Bangs Avenue, dodging stray pit-bulls and drive-bys and the young mom who finally finished school and wants to work at home as a daycare provider. The state won’t certify her there, though, (all those bullet holes in the siding) and she’s got no money to move with. Plus there’s her severely handicapped son who gets excellent services in his current school district.
Or on Springwood with the elderly lady who’s days away from being put out of her house because a bank foreclosed on her landlord. She’s got nowhere to go and I needed the time this week to wheel and deal with the bank to get her a cash-for-keys offer so she’ll have money for a security deposit on a new place.
Instead you sent me to training to learn to do my secretary’s job.
(As if I have the time to wear any more *hats*.)
Maybe sit at my desk for a day and explain to any one of my mentally-ill AND chemically-dependent clients (who call at least once a day, by the way) why I can’t be there to help solve their current life-crisis-of-the-day because I’m too busy filing and making photocopies of contracts and chasing down repayment agreements because you insisted we don’t need a secretary to do those things.
Oh and Mr. G. is off his meds again and dumpster-diving for leftovers. Maybe his Food Stamp worker will handle that.
(If building management doesn’t evict him first for being a nuisance.)
You can’t insist that we’re doing a good job and then assiduously go about dismantling us.
Please don’t insult us or our clerical staff by acting as if we’re all interchangeable and replaceable. I know as much about bookkeeping as Louise knows about social work.
(I take that back. Louise could do my job in a minute, but you’d have to pay her a lot more than you do now.)
Lastly, don’t you dare mess with our Christmas Party.
A chessman; a mere cog in the wheel
*Phil is fine. The rest of us, without him, well…
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Tuesday staff meetings do this to me. I apologize.


“Hi. I’m Laura. Can I ask a favor?”

“Sure. What?”

This photograph was the favor I’d asked.
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I love people-watching. It’s easy.

Approaching a stranger to ask for their photo is not.
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I’d been pacing up and down the boardwalk for nearly an hour, trying to get up the nerve to approach someone and ask. That in itself was a fun exercise… looking into people’s faces for something interesting… imagining the stories one might tell if I worked up the courage to talk to them.

Most wouldn’t even make eye contact.
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He’d said no the first time I asked. I smiled and thanked him, but didn’t back away. We talked for a bit and eventually, I asked again. He agreed, reluctantly, wanting to remain anonymous. He relaxed enough to tell me about his street art; after thirty minutes or so I felt okay about taking out my camera. He never once froze, or smiled stiffly at me, or stopped talking. It felt kinda like magic, this thing that my camera let happen…
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How would you feel if a stranger approached you for a photo? What might make it enjoyable for you, or not?

So tell me… could you do it? Does the thought of photographing 100 strangers terrify you the way it does me?

It scares me. A lot. I’m shy! That’s kinda how I know it’s the right thing to do, the right direction to head in to stretch myself in unpredictable and meaningful ways. Once a week I’ll try it. It’s about photo-making yes, but more about stepping outside my own box and what feels comfortable to me. Maybe I’ll get a good photo once in a while. Certainly I’ll meet some interesting people who I never would otherwise. A camera is as good an excuse as any, I think.