Posted by: Bill Tracy | April 9, 2019

The Haunted Photographer

I don’t ask for much, I only want your trust
And you know it don’t come easy
And this love of mine keeps growing all the time
And you know it don’t come easy*
-Ringo Starr

 

I make pictures of people I don’t know. People ask me why. I ask myself why. The answer lies in some kind of fundamental connection. There is nothing random about it. I see something in that person that connects with something in me. That connection might be emotional. It might be spiritual. It might be something even more mysterious. None of us will ever know, not in this lifetime. But once that connection is made, for me it does not go away. And the picture becomes its monument.

Mother and ChildThe images I make haunt me. I don’t know if this happens with all people who do “street” photography in a serious way. Some folks (most perhaps?) do it just to create a place for themselves on social media platforms — the more likes and clicks they get the happier they think they are. I don’t care so much about social media. I care about the lives of the people I photograph.

Rather than being haunted, you may ask why I don’t instead take pictures of birds, or landscapes, or flowers, or boats. Well, I do take pictures of all those things, and more, but I never forge a connection with them the way I do with people. I believe we’re in this life for a purpose, and that has to do with other people, not so much with cars or the latest “smart” phone. In the song, “Garden Party,” Ricky Nelson sang, “If memories were all I sang, I’d rather drive a truck.”

My pictures are not hidden away. They’re out there for all to see, 30,000 or so. Anyone who wants to look at them can do it — simple as clicking on…

https://wetracy.smugmug.com/

That site has been online around 10 years now. I often tell people one of my greatest pleasures is a cup of hot chocolate on a cold winter night — and a good browse through my pictures. I like the pictures I make, and I value them. If there’s a downside, it’s the haunting. I see images of people, the ones the images make a connection with. I want to know that life for them is good, that they are happy and having good fortune. My connection to them wishes them well. Not knowing their circumstances churns up my anxiety, and I can rarely ever know those circumstances. They may be well. They may be ill. Yet it’s all beyond my reach. Hope is my sole refuge.

Do What?For instance… on June 24, 2011 I made images of a woman and her young child in Angels Camp, California. There was such a tenderness between them I had no choice but to create images. In her face I saw every hope and fear that loving parents have for their children. I was deeply moved and connected with that. My images rarely fulfill my vision, but these got close enough. On those cold, winter nights, I drink my hot chocolate and wonder about her and her child. I fear for their vulnerability in this cruel world. Does she have what she needs to care for her child, I wonder. That child today is approaching his teen years. Does he have siblings? Does he do well in school? Has he fallen from a tree and broken his arm at some point? What are his fears and anxieties? Does he have loving grandparents who appropriately spoil him? I thought about talking with this woman at the time, but I didn’t want to intrude on her intimate connection with her child — and her joy. When you don’t talk with the person it makes for a very anonymous connection, but it isn’t always anonymous.

William

William and family

It was June, 2013 aboard a Cape May ferry when I saw a man holding his newborn child. I try always to take pictures of men holding children because it’s the exception to the rule. Normally, the woman is holding the baby. After making a few images, the mother appeared. I approached and asked if I could make some images of them as a family, a new family. This was their first child, William. Perhaps in the subconscious it made me think of my parents when I was their firstborn, a William. They seemed stressed and uncertain as only new parents can be, but very happy. So, I made the pictures, gave them my email and offered to send them copies. Turns out, they are the exception, they actually contacted me six months later and asked for images. That made me happy, especially since it rarely happens. So many times I end up with wonderful images that I’d love to share with the subject, but they’ve never contacted me. In this case, I know this family has images of their first month with child William. I see him getting into school now, perhaps having a younger brother or sister — as I did when I was age six. And I want life to be good for them. But I’ll never know.

West Virginia

Hi, Dad!

One of the most haunting is a woman who asked me to take her picture. It was an Autumn Festival near Egg Harbor City, NJ some years ago. I was making images of the event and the people. A woman approached and asked if I would take her picture — that she wanted to send a picture to her father in West Virginia. I don’t recall the details, but it seems she had not seen her father in a long time. She was alone, and I guessed something was going on in her life at the time that caused her to need a connection with her father. This seemed a connection begging to be made. I did the best I could, given the equipment I had and the ambient lighting conditions. I gave her my contact information and told her I’d make a print if she’d like. It felt like something good was happening at the time. I never heard from the woman. She never saw the picture. Neither did her father. And I’m haunted every time I look at her! Why did she need her father at that time? Did she connect with him? Are they still apart after so many more years? All these questions haunt me, and I long for her well being. Forevermore I’ll have nothing but a pretty picture and an empty space in my heart.

Such are the torments of the haunted photographer. There is a price to be paid for taking pictures of people you don’t know. As Ringo told us so long ago, “And you know it don’t come easy!”

*Songwriters: Richard Starkey. It Don’t Come Easy lyrics © Startling Music Ltd C/O Bruce V. Grakal, BMG Rights Management

.

Crazy Chester

His name is Chester, and “crazy” is tattooed on his chin. I met him in a train station, and we talked a while. He seemed like a pleasant and personable young man. Given his appearance, I know he gets targeted by police, and I fear he ends up in the hell of our prison system. My hope is that his lovely spirit is still free.

.

Rock & Roll Dreams

Rock & Roll Dreams. As soon as he walked into the music shop I knew I had to take his picture. I tried speaking with him, but he didn’t respond, perhaps he didn’t speak English well. His look is more than a longing for an object; he dreams of a life.

.

Mom & Son

Mom & Son

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Head In Hand

Opening day at the Revel Casino in Atlantic City, NJ. Has she lost her money? Weary of life? Simply tired? And what of the high heeled boots? Wishing her well.

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Responses

  1. Wonderfully written about beautiful parts of your heart. Thank you for sharing…..

  2. Hey Bill……because you are a very caring person!!

  3. Thanks for sharing the stories that go with the pictures, it all moved my spirit. What you do you do so well. It is sad that so many do not get in touch with you to share the masterpiece you have made with them as the subject. I was really moved as I read the story while looking at the picture.


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