As a photographer, I am compelled to seek out and record interesting imagery. As a photojournalist, I am compelled to shine the light of my lens on issues I believe need additional awareness. Sometimes, the making of a particular photograph actually informs me in an unexpected manner that’s different from the awareness I’m composing for my viewers. I spend much time preparing my compositions to tell their stories and often return to them myself thinking of the messages they contain. That’s what happened when I created the work posted above, which I titled, “The Opinions.”
Edie and I had been discussing living overseas and enjoying international travel for a few years. In November of 2015, we decided it was time to leave the workforce. So, she and I were about to take a year to prepare for our relocation to the selected destination, Cuenca. We enjoy the desert southwest of the U.S. for its people, food, scenery and photography. It was a logical choice for a three-week road trip to discuss the process of unwinding our estate, businesses and stateside lives. We crossed the city limits of Albuquerque, NM, entering the high desert (for about the hundredth time) on February 5, 2015.
It had been an 840 mile run from our home to Albuquerque. We were arriving to the city earlier than usual. The late afternoon light was really nice so I aimed our big Tundra for Route 66, which runs right through the center of town. Bobby Troup was on to it when, in 1946, he wrote about getting your kicks along Route 66; there’s a lot of “humanness” along the Route. The people very much lend themselves to a story telling approach. I don’t know why some areas just seem to more readily serve up that intimate, and usually visceral, “slice of life” view. But, they do.
There they sat, adorned in the brightest clothing I had seen all day. The sight presented an unusual juxtaposition against the dry brown dirt and scraps of wind-blown trash that were rustling up and down that part of Route 66. And there were strong, yet undefined, emotions on their faces. The three people were clearly visible as we rolled slowly past in heavy traffic. Excited about their seemingly interesting story, and wanting to understand the full meaning of their expressions, I parked on the median grabbing a camera as I stepped down from the truck. I tucked it under my arm and looked across the street, the other way, toward the bus stop bench.
Traffic was heavy and slowly passing buses and eighteen-wheelers obscured the people from my view. It was rush hour and I began to see it wasn’t going to be possible to cross the multiple lanes to meet them. The traffic thinned for a second.
The man was staring at me. Working solely from gut experience, the social value of the scene was so high, I elected to make the photograph. The camera was already up but not firing. His expression had never changed but the two women were looking around. When the younger one cut her eyes for a moment, between the passing of a school bus and a truck, I was already into the shutter button.
Almost three years have passed. I have been in Ecuador for about two of them. This photograph has followed me along the way. It’s been a reference point for me during my new life journey in a different country, on another continent, in a separate hemisphere from where I hail. Shortly after finishing the photograph in post-processing or perhaps during that activity, it began to inform me in a surprising manner. Frankly, I couldn’t stop referring to it.
I started to think about Edie’s and my new life in Ecuador in relation to the photograph and I wondered how we would seem/appear/be to the native people of our newly chosen home. Would their perceptions, their opinions of my family be as my own opinions were toward those peoples of other countries when I viewed them against the backdrop of my own nation? How and why do we form the opinions we navigate life’s paths with? Are they valuable or damaging to us as we attempt to enable ourselves socially for not just our culture but the cultures of the rest of the world? How and why do we form the opinions we do of others? Certainly, they are forming ideas and opinions of us based on how we look, act and speak. What’s down there under the garb, the skin color, the culture, the traditions, the language?
I didn’t know whether I would ever share this image or write words of accompaniment. It’s not possible for me to articulate the myriad of thoughts I have about the image so I haven’t been in any hurry to speak of it. I’ve spent enough time with this image now that I’m confident in its message for me. It’s time to share with others. I’m certainly not revealing all my thoughts here, that would be stealing the chance for your own interpretations and experiences with the piece. You know…the opinions.