Thursday, April 23, 2009

View Through a Lens

I'm a photographer. I own a Canon SLR digital camera. I cannot use, nor do I like to use fake cameras. By "fake" I'm referring to anything that has "point and shoot" in it's title. I am totally unable to take a decent photo with one. Amazing isn't it. You would think that if you are a photographer you would be able to pick up any camera and take a great photo. Doesn't work that way. It's like eating steak all your life then one day trying a mini-burger....yes, they are both meat, but they do not look or taste the same. Right about now you are saying to yourself "she doesn't like fake cameras because she can't use one." You would be incorrect in that assumption. I can use one in the literal sense, per se, I just can't use one to take decent photos.

I like seeing things through new eyes (my camera) and through old eyes (my own -- which are in desperate need of contacts). The view through a lens is remarkable. You are given the opportunity to see things in a new way -- framed and hanging on the wall. You find yourself with a new perspective on life; you pay attention to details that you would never notice in the course of a day. It takes hours to drive from one destination to the next because you stop along the way taking photos of things that you glimpsed from your window. You run off the road, sometimes scraping a mailbox or clipping a fence (or two), because you are staring at something you want to turn around and take a photo of. You stop people on the street to ask if you can take their picture. You annoy people in their homes when you knock on their door to ask permission to take a photo of a leaf you spied in their front yard.

As a photographer, you find yourself visiting places you would not normally visit. For instance, a couple of years ago, I did a documentary photography project on inmates. A friend who works for the Jefferson County Sheriff's department helped me go where no woman has gone before (at least not as a visitor)....into an all male county jail. I had the opportunity to interview, without the safety of plexiglass and a telephone, five inmates. I sat in a cell with each one for a chat and photograph. Two murderers, one drug dealer, one assaulter (he almost beat a man to death for money) and one who wrote bad checks. It was a very interesting mix of that you would never believe could be or should be behind bars, except one.....the drug dealer, who, for the sake of propriety, we will call Leon.

Leon, in his interview, kept telling me "the man" owed him something. That it was "the man's" fault he had to deal drugs to survive. He couldn't get a job because of "the man" and "the man" always sent him home broke each time he left prison (not his first stint in the big house, obviously). I informed Leon that "the man" (which I assumed was the government) didn't owe him anything, that it was his responsibility to make his own way in life, to work to earn a decent living and not blame others for his shortcomings (I was brave in my speaking because an armed sheriff was right outside the door and I figured he could draw his pistol before Leon could stab me with the "shiv" he made from a shoelace cap. Apparently, Leon learned many skills from watching reruns of McGyver.) When I left, Leon and I were not friends, which was okay. I don't think it's a good idea to be friends with drug dealers, as they always draw you into their drama and, eventually, your own stint in the big house. However, it was an interesting experience. I've posted a few photos from "my jail days". Incidentally, I was told that I could not photograph their faces because their rights had to be protected. My response, "What rights? They gave up their rights when they changed their name to a number". As you can see, I was forced to comply.

I'm just sayin',



Joseph said...

There is something to be said for taking a hard look at people like this. I have a tendancy towards mercy when it comes to the worst of criminals because "but for the grace of God go I" and other stuff like that. People make little choices throughout their lives that make them who they become. I did not wake up a full time elevator parts guy and part time student minister. And these guys didn't wake up who they were either. Good post.

Margo Redding said...

Thank you. You are right, it's the choices we make that mold who we become. This particular interview was very difficult for me. Leon had a horrible attitude and wanted to blame everyone else for his lot in life. At some point, we have to accept and take responsibility for our actions.

Chris Barnette said...


Awesome post! That was very brave of you to interview these guys. I think we all need to get more involved in trying to bring these guys to Christ and help them turn their life around. I also believe most of these guys do think "the man" is out to get them and that the Govt owes them something. It's seems like most of these prisons are just revolving doors and that being a criminal is now become a profession. Thanks for bringing to light a issue we all like to try to keep in the dark.

M. Galloway said...

Looking at the pictures maybe a point and shoot would have given you a little more light. HA :) Just giving you a hard time. Actually very cool pics. Also interesting interaction with the prisoners.

M. Galloway

Benita Roberts said... are a nut! Thanks. It was definitely an interesting event. I would like to go back and do it again with others and be able to follow their progress through the penal system. The guy reading the newspaper had a promising basketball career and was in college on a scholarship. He decided "things" weren't happening for him fast enough monetarily, so he decided to start selling drugs. He ended up in a shoot out with police, killed an officer and will spend the rest of his life in prison. He was only 24 at the time. Sad stuff.