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PO Box 8….my book!

So it is now January 11, 2008… and that means school is over and I am back in Petaluma, California, scratching my head and wondering what happened in the blur of the month called December. Well, here is a summary….

Most importantly I made a book, with the help of graphic designer Yumi Kohsaka. She put an exorbitant amount of time, energy and patience into helping me. I had no idea how much work it would be and so I worked literally nonstop for two weeks.

This what the back and front cover looks like:

To see the first few pages of the book you can click on the po box link……

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And as soon as I dropped the book off for printing…I had to start putting together my pieces for the final group show. I chose to go the more economical route by buying frames at a carboot sale (similar to our flea market) and creating a family wall type of exhibition…and with the enthusiasm of my dear Italian friend Matteo… I bought some gaudy wallpaper and, with the help of a wonderful guy from the film department, we created a living room scene complete with ugly pink lamp.

So how did it all turn out in the end?…. the show was ok…. it could have been better. The super-stars in the program really stood out by helping and donating a lot of time and energy to other people, but unfortunately the lead-weights in the program stood out too by not contributing at all, so there were some ruffled feathers by the end of it. And as for my book, I was definitely disappointed with the printing quality, as most of the copies fell apart after a couple of viewings and the some of the photos did not print well at all….. but the good news….it is over and I learned a whole lot and I met a bunch of new wonderful friends and now it is time to go out and do my own thing….. and I have a book! A rough draft for the moment, but it is a book and I am proud of it… the test will be when I present it to the community.

Nervous

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.

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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……

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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…..

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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…..so 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.

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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

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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.
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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.

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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.
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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.

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. )

Jason Wilson and the Flying Pig

Officer Jason Wilson is one of the four officers in charge of the Reidville area, but only one officer is on duty at a time. Originally from Louisiana, he has been working in this area for 6 years. His favorite place to stop for food and drinks is the Flying Pig.

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He likes the area because of the country and town mix but he chose not to live in Reidville because he likes to have his work and life separate. Which is probably good because he describes himself as a treehugger, a conservationist and a pagan, traits that are not common around these parts….needless to say Sandra Gowan, Reidville’s town clerk, calls him a heathen. But Jason says, “It is nothing personal. I am here to do my job, I am not here to be liked.”

Lately the biggest issue around here has been stealing copper, especially from air conditioning units, but otherwise it is a real good area, Jason says. The job security is nice too, “The only thing you can count on in life are death and taxes and that we will always need cops.”

Dorothy but everyone calls me Dot

“I was a fighter when I was a little girl. I fought everyone and won too, even though I was smaller than most of them.” Dot Blackwell moved to Reidville when she was 6 years old. Reidville was lonely, she tells me, there were no kids in town. She moved away after she married the first time and two husbands and a new boyfriend later, she has no desire to move back. It was a good place to grow up and she likes to visit her family but she has moved on.

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She is standing in front of her father Doc Lowe’s old service station. It was ‘the’ place to go for many years. Men used to like to come in and stand around her dad’s wood oven and catch up on gossip and wait for her mom and dad to fight. She got her temper from her mom.

Her children don’t have to worry about her she tells me. “I have my Berretta and I will use it too.” Her children make sure to call before stopping by.

When she was pregnant with her first child Chuck, she used to like to come down and take apples from her dad’s store and smell the gas fumes in these garages. But today the gas fumes are gone and the old store has been converted to a restaurant called the Family Dog.

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Nancy Bishop opened her restaurant a year and a half ago. Cleaning up years of oil and grease was a lot of work but apparently she did a good job of converting it because the locals who come to see the new spot say it looks nothing like it did when Doc owned it. Although it is the only restaurant in Reidville, business is slow, but Nancy isn’t giving up yet.

Burning Love….

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The Reidville Fire Department has been the meeting place of love for many in this small town.

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Jason and Meredith, both firefighters and EMT first responders, held their reception in the station Saturday Sept 8th, 2007.

Town Hall in Reidville, SC

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This is Sandra Gowan, the town clerk, and Mayor Gene Snow. And in Reidville, the fight is on and they are begrudgingly leading the fight because the fight involves the “Z” word…..zoning.

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Reidville as it has been known for over 200 years is on the brink of being swallowed by subdivisions. Countryside lost. People are upset. No one wants change but no one wants zoning laws. In this county people want to be left alone. Do not try and tell someone what to do with their land…..but don’t put a subdivision next to my house either…..we want to keep the cows……but we want the right to claim the money that we can get for selling our land. The nation is in a housing crisis, but not in Spartanburg County. Developments are popping up on every corner. The old people are dying and the kids are selling.

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It is a common story but in Reidville, the fight is on.

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