Gravestones and Corvettes
I’m reading a book by Amanda Palmer, “The Art of Asking”, which is fantastic. A quote from it has stuck with me over the past days, “Not everybody likes to be looked at. Everybody likes to be seen.” As a sometimes shy person, I can certainly relate. While the idea of being looked at by people, particularly in an obvious way, such as on stage, is generally terrifying to me, the idea of being truly seen by people I care about brings warmth, comfort, and validation.
The quote also made me think of many people that I have photographed who have initially protested the idea of being in front of a camera, in what seems an aversion to being Looked At. Their mind goes immediately to all of the flaws that may be revealed. But once they settle into being in front of the camera something magical happens. Aspects of themselves that they want seen start showing up. Strength. Power. Beauty. Vulnerability. Aspects of themselves that they may hide in daily life.
A recent portrait session with my neighbor, Byrdine, was full of such moments. Byrdine is a character by pretty much any standard, scurrying around in her yard tackling project after project, at times in curlers, frequently in a big flannel shirt and moccasin boots. She painted her house intricately in purple and green. Her candy-apple red Corvette is parked in the carport. She used to be a cross-country truck driver. She is friendly, animated, funny, modest and full of stories about our neighborhood and the larger mountain community. Her family has been in the area for generations. It’d be hard to do much better in the neighbor department.
When I asked her if I could photograph her with her car, she (somewhat nervously) agreed. She thought it would be better to just focus on the car and skip her. We set off for Pisgah Highway in search of big, open space and wound up at the church she attended as a little girl, right at the base of Mt. Pisgah, where she was born. On the drive down she shared that she bought her first Corvette soon after her husband’s untimely death, and that it had been key in reconnecting her to life. She joined a Corvette club, made new friends, and discovered a love of these particular sports cars. She’s had one ever since. As we pulled up to the church, she began telling stories. It seemed she had a story for nearly every gravestone in the churchyard – most were relatives, family friends, people she knew and loved. The stories of some of their lives and deaths continued to haunt her.
As I pulled out my camera, she continued to share, and at times paused in contemplation for long stretches. And through all of this, she let me see her magnificent, complex, beautiful self. These are some of the photos we came up with: