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My Documentary Photography

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Image courtesy of Pixabay (altered)

There was a time in my life I did black and white documentary photography. I learned to develop and print my own photographs. My weekends spent in the darkroom were hours of deep concentration and great satisfaction.

My husband and I took a documentary photography class together. We had each purchased a Hasselblad medium format camera. Working in medium and large format tends to slow you down. Learning to spend more time composing in the frame and properly exposing and focusing seem to create more intentional photos.

As part of this class, we often went on field trips to shoot. One Saturday morning we met at the school early and caravanned to a local flea market. Being in Florida we wanted to get there early before the Florida sun became too hot and too intense. The morning or afternoon sun was always the goal. On this particular morning, we parked the car and assembled our equipment not realizing we would be negatively received by some.

Many people were selling out of the trunks of their cars. Many avoided us and our cameras. We came in with expensive cameras and there was immediate suspicion we were with the government. We soon realized there were most likely a number of undocumented people there selling and they did not want to have their photos taken. As students, we all respected their wishes and just moved on.

Suddenly, an older woman with white hair approached me with a huge smile and inquired about what we were doing. She wanted me to take her photo. It was then she shared her story.

“Look at me. Almost 70 years old and hanging out at the flea market. Would you believe there was a time that so much money passed through these fingertips? And here I am now, selling dolls out of the trunk of my car.” She laughed.

“I used to be a dancer in New York. Can you believe that?” She did not wait for me to respond.

“Wait I have a picture. Let me get it.” She walked around to the driver’s side of the car and opened the front door. In a few minutes she returned with a photo in her hand.

”Can you believe that was me?” She was still grinning ear to ear.

I asked her if I could take a photo of her holding her dance photo. She replied with an enthusiastic yes.

I remember thinking about how life changes. I wondered what happened in her life and was so taken by her charm and attitude about her past and current life. This photo has always been one of my favorites. I never saw her again, nor did I ever know her name. But here she is, captured at a single moment of time in a photo that captured her past and her present.

What a gift she was to me.

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