Thank You, Photography, Thank You

Eager to become a better storyteller, I applied and was accepted at the Missouri Photo Workshop in 1991.

At that time, I was apt in making the single images, but piecing together a narrative was an alien concept.

The workshop that year was held in St Genevieve, a small town south of St Louis, and my mentors were Cheryl Magazine (US News & World Report), Gary Settle (The Seattle Times) and Maggie Steber.

On the first day of the workshop, I ran into Dennis Wolk, a train engineer, at the depot where he was based. My initial plan was to focus on him, but because his work took him away from St Genevieve for hours every day, and I needed to be at the nightly critiques, it was abandoned.

I followed Dennis home and met his wife Cheryl and their two children, Amber and David, and I found a new angle.

I guess if this story was done a few years ago, the title would probably be somewhere closer to Desperate Housewives.

There was nothing much going on, and yet a lot going on.

I had no idea what it was like to be a farm wife, I had no inkling what it was like to grow up in a small town.

I certainly had little idea what it was like to be a serious documentary photographer.

I felt a little uneasy when I was given total access.

I didn’t know how to feel when the Wolks left their front door open at all hours, so I could be there at 5am, to make the picture of Cheryl waking up.

I didn’t know how to feel when I was increasingly biased, after spending more time with Cheryl than Dennis.

I didn’t know if I was, through my lens, getting a sneak preview of my life.

And I didn’t know how to end the story.

One day, I walked into my daily consultation with my mentors looking worried and perplexed.

It must have been Maggie who asked jokingly if I had fallen in love with Cheryl.

No I hadn’t, but I was losing my objectivity.I felt that I had to choose between liking Dennis as a good husband who brings home the bacon, and having sympathy for Cheryl, for having no day-off.

I asked important questions about the value of a housewife, of a mother.

I wondered about family, about sacrifices.

The Wolks wondered about me – someone they affectionately called Tayman.

They thought that I would be very famous one day.They said that when I finally worked for the National Geographic magazine, they would tell everyone they had a hand in launching my career.

Some of the things happened, some didn’t.

But I am grateful that I am still a photographer, a legal voyeur of life, a collector of tales.


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