Project Showcase – Home Series

Project Showcase – Home Series

Last June, I headed down to Toledo, WA, my old stompin’ grounds where I attended high school. It would be the first of a couple trips down to Toledo, working on a newly birthed project I formed alongside good friend and video talent, Andy Lahmann. It was a project focused on the community, with a lot of the attention going towards the high school students. To get caught up on the story, here are a couple posts to read. Here (click),  here (click), and here (click). Now, if you are up to speed…

I spent a day capturing high school students in a number of activities (this series of photos called the “Pride Series”), the photos turned out very well, especially considering the day was a complete run-and-gun operation. I think we teed-up 8 photo shoots during one school day. We’d walk into a new room or sporting location, with never having worked on the photo ideas prior to that moment. Just show up, come up with something real quick, setup lights, pop the photo, pack-up and move on to do it again at another location. The photos received a great response, we made large prints and banners of the photos and hung them in the school. It was predictable that the photos would peak the interests of the high school students, as the photos were of them, however, there was a surprisingly positive response from both the middle and elementary schools. Prints were made for the other schools as well, and the kids loved them. Simply put, the photos did exactly what we wanted them to – generate interest, and ultimately getting the students online, where the website and forum we setup for this project awaited them, and get them talking and involved. You gotta take your information where the eyes are if you want it to be seen, and we all know that today that’s online. 

I decided the next round of photographic efforts should involve well-known community members. Our project had gotten great attention from EVERYONE in Toledo, both students and residents. We were getting feedback that a lot of residents loved what we were doing for Toledo, and wanted to help, they just didn’t know how to help. My thoughts on that… if someone is REALLY interested in doing something, they investigate, search online, visit websites, ask around. If you come up to me and say, “hey, this is a great movement you’ve started in Toledo, and I want to do something, what is it all about, and what can I do?” Well, then you clearly haven’t looked into it, and by default, I’m naturally led to believe you haven’t spent any time looking because you don’t have a true connection with the project. After all, we didn’t start this project just to prompt you to tell us that you “like it.” The whole project was about self-motivation, finding your own unique ways to help Toledo, and our website is very clear about that. Andy and I’s job was to simply inspire, inject/reveal the Toledo pride that had seemed to have gone into a deep slumber. Judging from how the photographs of the students got the students involved in the project, I wanted to take a crack at doing this with the adult residents of the Toledo community. Take photos of them, get them talking, get them involved… involved beyond the point of just asking a question.

We had the kids pumped up and wanting to do things for the town, but resources lay with the adults. Though we had a positive reaction from the adults, I didn’t feel that the resident awareness was even close to where it could be. Enter Project Showcase – Home Series. Focused on adults, for adults, and hopefully the answer to filling the gap between the students and adults. Something to spark the project awareness connection – students and adults alike, they are all a part of the same community. Kids filled with inspiration and ideas to help the community, adults with the resources to make them happen.

This last October, with my car loaded to the gills with photo gear, I travelled back down to Toledo with the residents in my sights. We identified a few community members we wanted to photograph. The concepts were put together in a crude fashion, only knowing the people and the rough locations of the shoots. The basic idea was to hit a few different demographics, lifestyles, etc. to reinforce the idea of diversity even this small town has. Time of day, exact resources, the way the subjects were dressed… none of this was planned (ya know, the things that are pretty critical for a photo shoot). It was very much like the first round of photos with the students, completely shootin’ from the hip. As we finished one shoot, we call the next subject, tell them we are on our way.

It was actually a really amazing day for myself. During the shoots I got the opportunity to converse with the subjects and learn a little bit more about them. I’d have to say the most rewarding part of the day for me was photographing Don Buswell, the older gent you see sitting on the tractor. To put it in perspective, Don is the father of one of my teachers I had while I was in school. Upon arriving to Don’s farm, he was busy making dried apple rings out in one of his sheds. The man is 89 years old, but you wouldn’t know it by the way he lives-out his days running his farm. Not only was this shoot my favorite out of the bunch, but it was also the most natural and unforced. Don first took us into his house where we got into conversation about all of the logging history he had up on his walls (photographs, newspaper cutouts, and maps). Don was heavily involved in the logging business, of course back then it was a boomin’ biz. I love old pictures for a number of reasons. I love the care-free, complete disregard for safety back then, and just overall realness to the photos. A bunch of guys in boots, a pair of jeans, and luggin’ around axes. It made me immediately take more pride in my job (taking photos). Of course I’m so wrapped up in making visually pleasing images, I tend to forget the importance of the documentation element.

I tend to look at photography as a sloping measurement of importance that shifts with time. Visual qualities and documentation being the two major important constants, and time as the variable. The moment the photo is taken, the importance of the photo lay in the visual quality, the photographic execution. As time progresses, all the little photographic details we fret over to make perfect every day when we take photos, tend to fade away. They fade away, leaving only the appreciation of a photo from time. 20 or 30 years after a photo is taken, family members don’t gather around to pour over the lighting execution. They are looking at how young they were, how a building in the photograph doesn’t exist any more, and how different things used to be back then. It’s interesting. I can only hope that all of my efforts I take every day to make photographs that much more powerful translate into making the viewing experience 30 years later a little more enjoyable.

Don and I headed outside, the conversation went something like this:

Don: So what are you wantin’ to do today?
Me: Take your photograph, doing something around the farm.
Don: Ah, hell. You don’t wanna take a picture of me, do ya?
Me: I sure do.
Don: Well… I gotta feed the cows, you want to photograph that?
Me: That would be great.

You don’t have much time to photograph older folks, their patience wore out like 30 years prior, and their poker faces are even worse. This translates to getting about 3 or 4 clicks of the camera in before the apparent discomfort is written all over their face.

I grabbed a light as Don fired up his tractor and pulled it up to the barn, where he kept the hay. 89 years old and this guy is still buckin’ hay bales, amazing. As he was in the barn, I snagged a photo of him. You don’t have much time to photograph older folks, their patience wore out like 30 years prior, and their poker faces are even worse. This translates to getting about 3 or 4 clicks of the camera in before the apparent discomfort is written all over their face. Don did a great job accommodating my rather large camera and light in his face. Better yet, he gave me “him,” and I feel that I got a couple of really genuine photos, albeit they are a bit staged. The very top photo is my fav. Don, on his tractor, loaded with hay to take over to the cows, and he is looking over to another person just off camera right, partaking in light convo. I quickly shot this low angle, loved his body position, and it ended up as this almost heroic pose. Here is the photo one more time. I really enjoyed the hour I spent with Don.

The rest of the photos shoots went about as smooth as possible, considering that lack of prep. This next set of photos are of the Wallace father and son team that run a very busy truck-stop business which sits right on the I-5 strip. This was actually the first shoot of the day, the fog stuck around for an unusually long time that day, hence the blankness of the background. I spent about 15 minutes setting up lights (this shoot was the most complex of the day, involving 4 lights, as I had to light both the people and the trucks for detail). When I was ready, I had the two meet me at the far corner of the fueling station lot. We flagged a couple truckers as they rolled off of the fueling line, asked them if we could steal their trucks for a couple quick shots. Total shoot time on this was 3-5 minutes.

When I thought about doing this photo series, I knew that I wanted to ensure I got a photo of an older couple in a relaxed setting. I wanted to make sure I had a photograph in the set that really spoke to a large demographic of Toledo, which is the elderly community. They are wise, very involved in the community, and most importantly, they care. I wanted to enlist them in the project’s efforts. The Springer couple was elected to be that duo. Highly respected and well-known, Gary Springer was a longtime principle in the Toledo school system – a home run, in terms of a figure to photograph to represent the community. I selected the local park in Toledo for the location this photo would take place. Not only am I trying to show people of the community, I wanted to capture them in very recognizable places of town which would, without a doubt, indicate these photos were taken in Toledo. Again, seeking to find ways to interest people in the project as much as I can.

By the time we got to this photo set, the fog had burnt off, and we had some pretty strong mid-day sun trying to blast it’s way into the photographs. This was another reason I selected the park for this shot, I knew that I could duck out of the sun with the cover of the big trees the park housed. I went for a “unaware camera” look for the couple, as if I wasn’t there, and they were on a casual visit to the park. I shot them in a couple different spots, and we got some good frames.

Not only am I trying to show people of the community, I wanted to capture them in very recognizable places of town which would, without a doubt, indicate these photos were taken in Toledo.

The last shoot of the day was the biggest. The idea of this shot was to use the ONE legit intersection in the middle of Toledo, and fill the photograph with representatives of the community of all ages and occupations. Included is the town cop, mayor, past principle, long-time daycare owner, teachers of different ages, and students from different school levels. The “main” intersection in town even has a light… well, a blinking light. In hindsight, it was a REALLY good idea we incorporated the town police officer, as we caused quite a ruckus. It being a small town, and the shoot taking place on the one main street in town, traffic was a bit of a problem. It seems residents of Toledo have never seen light stands and other photo equipment before, which caused traffic to come to a stop at times. I can say with confidence that we probably generated the first and only traffic jam this town has ever seen, thanks to our shoot (aside from your parades and such). With a group this large, creative photography is kinda tossed out the window, and you just aim for one look, one good frame where everyone has a good look on their face, eyes are all open, and all of my lighting technicalities are working as they should. Below is the resulting frame of the Great Toledo Traffic Jam of 2011.

These photographs were also recently printed as banners in the town of Toledo. We are still waiting to hear of their impact, as things seem to come to a stop during the holiday season. I’m looking forward further progression of Project Showcase, and I’ll share more info as it comes in.