Life’s little surprises…

I am in South Carolina right now for two reasons. The first reason is to photograph a friend’s new organic clothing line for kids… and the second is to visit my mom.

Two weeks ago our family dog, Freckles, who was 14 years old, had to be put to sleep. She had a lot of health issues that kept getting worse. We knew we didn’t have long but we didn’t know we had so short either… and two weeks ago the vet finally said it was ‘time.’ But even with the vet’s advice that moment is so so so hard… and even harder when you have to make that decision alone… which is what my mom had to do.

So when this fun work opportunity came up, I knew it would be a good excuse to visit my mom at the same time.

And as life has its ways of throwing in surprises… tonight, when I went to pick up my mom from school, we turned around in a driveway of one of Reidville’s oldest houses. The lady who lived there, one of Reidville’s oldest residents, passed away last summer… right before I started working on my project about the town. Anyway, no one lives there now except for all her multiplying cats… and as we pulled in the driveway, they all scattered… except one.

This little one with eyes all glued shut just sat there looking pitiful. So, I walked over expecting him to run into the bushes… but he just sat squinting at me through his goopy eyes and he let me pick him up. So, instead of driving to the pharmacy to pick up DVD’s, we drove to the vet instead.

And after being cleaned inside and out of all his ear mites, worms, fleas, and eye boogers… we have ourselves a new kitten who likes to sit on my shoulder and purr. And we are wondering if he is ready to move to California… surprise, honey.


So now I am back in London…..with a box of prints and a stomach full of nerves. While I was in the US, I had thoughts that maybe I didn’t even need to come back, because I had already learned what I needed to learn.

I learned how to photograph with a medium format camera, I learned how to tackle a big project, I learned how to put myself out there, I learned how to make mistakes and fix them….so why should I come back to London where it is so expensive and far away from my loved ones.

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But to be honest, I was not looking forward to sitting down and showing my work. I was dreading it. I was insecure that my work wasn’t good enough. That my portrayal of a small American town would be insignificant and dull next to my classmates’ worldly adventures and documentation of major current events. I would try to remind myself that it doesn’t matter what other people think, this is the type of work that interests me, so that is the most important thing……but still the nerves twitched. So I knew that this was yet another lesson that I needed to face and learn….

I was happy and relieved when my first tutorial with Oliver went well. He was complimentary; he said I had some good images and that I had mastered medium format…..(which means I did a really good job editing and he didn’t see the mountains of out of focus or flared images). So that day I felt good…..but then we had our group presentation…..and now, in our third term, I know how this goes, and I know what to expect….

It means, a long day of seeing other people’s work, which is good…..but because there are so many people in the class, it is kind of pointless as far as getting feedback from the other students or our tutor, who may or may not be paying attention, and therefore it generally leaves me feeling pretty unsatisfied and frustrated…..and this term was just the same…..maybe even worse, because I am much more fragile and desperately craving feedback.

I don’t need someone to tell me everything is good and I am the best photographer in the world, I need someone to be thoughtful and look at the images and make critiques and tell me their honest opinion….it is called constructive criticism. In my opinion, that has been a huge gaping hole in this program.

So after the group presentation, the confidence roller coaster dipped down again….until I had a great meeting with Homer Sykes. Luckily the person who signed up after me didn’t show up, so I got a longer time with him than the meager 30 minutes allotted and during that time he filled me with hope again. Homer told me the things that didn’t work, but then we looked through other photos that I had not selected. The process was so helpful and when it was over I actually smiled, which he was relieved to finally see.


Homer chose this one from my pile of extras……and because he was choosing more of my atmospheric photos, it sent me back to my original files to search for others that I may have skipped in my initial edits, and I found this one of the fire house, it makes me smile too……


And the roller coaster goes up again.

The Grand Reidville Finale

My last Friday in Reidville, my favorite fireman Tim Brady took me out to lunch at Joe’s Lake. And I am so glad he did because besides being a local favorite hang out, it was another good lesson.

I was feeling pretty confident after having a 99% success rate of gaining permission to photograph everyone who I wanted to photograph. So I thought I had this one in the bag, especially because I was coming in with a local, but as I was setting up to take a photo of a woman talking with Tim, she said, “no,” and then her husband, the owner, who I wanted to photograph next said, “no,” and the man at the counter said, “no”…….and all of a sudden I was back at square one…..


So I realized that all those hours I spent talking with people before photographing, was essential. For each person I photographed this summer, I spent between 1-2 hours asking questions and listening, so when I eventually asked to take a photograph, they said, “yes”…….and now I was sauntering in assuming these people would love me like everyone else, but they didn’t know me and I didn’t know them… I rightfully got denied….except by this guy who is very proud to be from Sugar Tit…..the very small community next to Reidville (but Tim told me it was partly because he was in a car accident and still wasn’t quite all there.)

Then after Joe’s Lake, I was back to the nursing home one last time to re-shoot the Reidville sister-in-laws who were neighbors in Reidville and now share a room in the nursing home.


Re-shoot because the first shoot was horrible: one of them was tired and I was too cautious to request them to move around. So instead, I saved the awkwardness for when I had to call and ask to come and try again. But this time was much better. They both had just had their hair done, and a niece was there to help. The niece was very complimentary as well, she said she was impressed with how hard I worked this summer because she had seen me all over town, and that if I needed a testimony in order to get a good grade, she would be happy to volunteer.

My lesson this time: do better to make it work the first time, but if it doesn’t work out….do it again.

Conflicting Intrests


The farmer in Bill Chumley wants the area that he grew up in to stay rural but to actually earn money, he owns a landscaping business and more developments mean more jobs for his family.

Sherrie Morrow has just completed her first year in the real estate business. She likes the open green spaces and developers who leave trees when clearing lots, but at this point, she will take the jobs that she can get.


Calvin Snow builds custom homes. Most of the town of Reidville is made up of his relatives. He is currently building a 10,000 square foot home, for someone else, on the property where he grew up. But Calvin did turn down an offer to build a different home, on the same family property, because the man who bought the property wanted to tear down the beloved barn that Calvin and his brothers grew up working in. So the man hired another builder and the barn is gone.

Cole Wilson loves the countryside he grew up in. He feels claustrophobic living so close to other people, now that he lives in town. But he runs a landscaping business and the growth is good for his business too, especially because there are so many landscaping companies to compete with.

Ann, Betsy and Me

My two best friends from high school. Ann and Betsy. Ann was my bad friend and Betsy my good friend. And I was their ‘different’ friend……and still am…..which can be seen by the two gourds that they are holding. I gave them gourds for my 30th birthday celebration night.


Ann got the big gourd, because she is pregnant and Betsy got the little gourd because she is little. They challenge me, and I challenge them….

Ann: married, first grade teacher for 8 years, mother of almost two, owns a house in the same neighborhood she grew up in, drives an SUV.

Betsy: single but ready to start a family, manager at an industrial warehouse supply company for 7 years, loves football, owns a townhouse in Atlanta, drives a BMW convertible.

Me: in a relationship but not sure about having kids, free-lance photographer, loves hiking, doesn’t own a house or a car and lives in London.

Together we eat ice cream (me from a cone to save plastic waste, Betsy from a cup to save calories,) we laugh at our differences and we gossip about people from high school but we don’t talk about politics and we feel lucky to be in each other’s lives.

And now, because of the gourds, our lives are connected to Reidville.


Ben Brockman, who is now in his 70’s, had polio as a child which left him handicapped for the rest of his life. He was his parents’ only child and the only heir to the property that sits at a busy corner in Reidville. He has full-time care takers who enable him to continue to live in his family home.

Ben is known by everyone in Reidville for sitting in his golf cart, in his front yard, and selling tomatoes that his dad would plant for him each year. But Ben’s father passed away last winter making it hard to find someone to plant and maintain the crops and Reidville suffered through a long drought this summer, so this summer he didn’t have as many tomatoes to sell.

Up and Over Reidville

The good thing about small Southern towns, there is always someone who knows someone who can help you…..and this time the Fire Chief said he knew the guy in charge of the neighborhood with the houses that have garages for airplanes, and that guy could take me up in a plane for free.

This is Johnny Stewart with my ride. The problem was I was so excited and still in disbelief, that I didn’t really think about how or what I wanted…..and I didn’t think that I would be in charge of directing our flying…. and it all happened so fast…. and Reidville is so small……so I didn’t really get the amazing shots that I should have…..but the experience was cool.

So this is pretty much Reidville…..if you look closely, you can see it all….town hall, the wide roads on main street, the housing developments in the farmland, the Family Dog, the school (the big building,) the White Presbyterian church and behind that is a big red scar where the White church tore down the trees and now the Black Presbyterian Church can be seen. I was told this past Sunday that one member of the white church “didn’t even know those colored churches were back there until they tore down the trees,” (all three churches are over 100 years old. )

more football

In case you can’t fully read their chests…..the Nixon Nuts’ message for the week is, “real southern men.”

So I was excited because I got field access to this week’s Byrnes High School football game, well it wasn’t hard I just called and asked and they said ‘sure,’ but I was excited nonetheless……but can I tell you how humorous it was…..well first of all, right before I went to obtain my permission, I decided to go to the restroom because I wasn’t sure if I would be allowed to come and go from the sidelines……and as a good photographer, I carry all my most important necessities in my back-pockets….film, light-meter etc…..and not to give too many details, but I was mindful as I was pulling down my pants because I didn’t want to loose any of my important necessities from my pockets into the toilet, but I was not as mindful when I was pulling up my pants and before I had time to remember, my light meter was at the bottom of the Byrnes High School’s football stadium toilet bowl. Luckily it was early in the night so the bathrooms were relatively clean……but unfortunately the meter did not work for the rest of the night…….

So I took my place on the sidelines with a non-functioning light meter and a camera that was made in the 50’s, and I was standing next to the sports photographers with the biggest, fastest, latest and greatest digital camera equipment.

me-football-5742web.jpg (photo credit: Penny Jones)

While they were shooting on rapid fire I was changing rolls of film and trying to pretend that I was the coolest one out there because I was different……different is right. I don’t know how many editors will want to send me out to cover the sports events when I can only take pictures of people standing very very still.

Look, there is a little bit of action in this shot…..but this is it, the rest are pretty abstract.

Belton Lane

It took a few attempts and me having to suck up my pride and call again to make yet another appointment….but I finally got a portrait of a man, who I have come to respect and admire with all my heart, a portrait that is still not perfect, but a portrait that I can live with. The problem is he is really busy and usually late for our appointments so each time, I felt rushed and did not take the time to set it up properly…..but I needed a good portrait of him so we tried and tried and tried again.


He is the man behind Walker’s Chapel Presbyterian Church. The man with the boisterous laugh and sweet soul. He shared his story of growing up Black in Reidville with me.


And this is the wall behind Walker’s Chapel Presbyterian Church….I call this photo, ‘someone else is late, so what can I do to occupy my time’…..

Remembering 9/11

The ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) at Byrnes high school remembered 9/11 by honoring the local fire departments with a flag ceremony and doughnuts.



The Reidville Fire Department remembered 9/11 by putting up a 16ft by 12ft American flag off of the ladder on their ladder truck, well they tried to put it up…it went up, then fell down, then went up, then was brought down for adjustments, then went up again and then two hours into the attempt, it was brought down because it was just too windy.


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