One of my tasks as a small community documentary-style photojournalist is what we call feature hunting. Editors who read designer books from the 80’s call it “Wild Art.”
Basically, when we come to work knowing our writers aren’t really working on any stories with a visual component, we are given carte blanche to find a little slice of life within our community that tells little bits and pieces of someone’s life that help us understand who we are as a people and the times we live in.
So, we tune ourselves into any movement we see, any color or pattern that grabs our eye, anything that speaks to the weather or community involvement in some way. Road workers become important news of the day so we can let people know why they were being detoured on street X in town Y. And we are aware of what is coming up during the month and if people are getting ready for whatever the heck it is that is coming up.
So, to give a little perspective of this approach I take, I was driving along Bredinsburg Road today on my way to the paper when I saw a blow up scene with a pretty realistic figure right there in the middle. “Oh wait, that’s a real person!”
(If I knew how to spell the sound of a car coming to a screeching halt and turning its wheels, I would spell that out right now, right here.)
Actually I’m a pretty cautious driver – I checked my mirrors and looked for a safe place to turn around. Plus, the screeching wheels would’ve set a bad precedent for what was to follow.
I pulled up and got out of my car unnoticed. The man was walking away. “Excuse me … hey … hi, I’m Rich Sayer a photographer for The Derrick and News-Herald.”
The guy looked anything but pleased or comfortable being approached out of the blue by someone trespassing on his property. “I saw you out decorating your yard and wondered if you minded if hung out while you worked and shot a few pictures?”
Now, this could go either way. By his expression, I fully expected him to say “no” and perhaps even get the ole “get off my property!”
“Will I be in the paper?” his face softened considerably from the first look I got. I was at ease and said maybe. (I also try to never guarantee anything anymore after promising a little kid he’d be on the front page tomorrow, who then told everybody he knows he would be on the front page, not knowing that moments later I was called to a major fire that changed our plans for the entire paper the next day.)
“No, I don’t mind. I’m almost finished though,” he said.
I said that’s fine, “I’ll just photograph you finishing up.”
He was switching off cords to the reindeer as it lay deflated on the ground as if it was disappointed there wasn’t any snow on the ground yet.
During the course of the next 10 minutes as he worked, we talked a little. And this is my favorite part of my job.
I found out he and his wife moved into the house this summer after moving from an apartment in Rocky Grove. He works at Quik Fill and has Sunday and Monday off. After returning home from his honeymoon in 2015, they found out his wife lost her job as an in-home aide when they were living in Slippery Rock, before moving to Rocky Grove. He enjoys owning his home now because he can decorate his yard and do what he wants. He owns a leaf blower. And that he is thinking about painting his deck red next spring.
I love hearing all this stuff as I talk with people because, even if I can’t somehow use the information to tell the story of him putting up his Christmas decorations, I feel it is still somehow in the picture(s) I make.
And who knows maybe some parts of it will be good to put into a caption to give it more depth and understanding. In 10 minutes, I get to know a lot about a person and I get to learn a lot more about being human in this small little chunk of the world we live.