My friend and I arrived after the tasting queue had become too long for our patience. Instead, we did the usual of shopping with our eyes for something to take home. I updated her about my 100 Strangers progress and asked her to indulge me if I interrupted our expedition to capture the right person’s image.
Into a large farm booth we walked to see closer some rainbow chard that looked promising. A woman who was grazing on a plate of salad contest leftovers came under the same canopy to browse.
Friend and I both did a double take noticing this 70-ish year-old woman wearing youthful ponytails and pair of enlarged cat-eye shaped eyeglasses. I raised my eyebrows to signal intrigue and let my friend know that I was going for it.
I introduced myself, explained the project and asked for permission to photograph her.
Thanking me for first having asked before photographing her, the woman agreed. Meet Lee, 57/100 strangers.
She has proved to be among my most challenging portraits in this project for several reasons. First was the immense amount of patience required. She needed a lengthy conversational warm up before shooting. Then she asked for more time to finish her cold salad followed by a self-examination to insure no greens were stuck and visible in between her teeth; in case I caught her smiling. Secondarily, Lee knew her glasses were smudged and dirty, but didn’t want to wipe the lenses clean; and these frames were an integral character detail that I didn’t want removed. Adding to my technical challenges was that Lee blinked and squinted a lot. I had to set my motor drive to the highest speed to take a few shots when her eyes were open.
Although we were inside a large vendor booth, I didn’t want to block customer traffic so we stepped out from under the canopy to the open area immediately behind.. In the park green there were no solid backgrounds in front of which I could place her. You can see some market tents to provide some context for the location of our meeting.
To the question of where originally she is from, Lee replied, “Oye Veh,’ and tilted her head to one shoulder.
“Ah, New York,” I said, noting her Yiddish expression.
Confirming that I was correct, Lee started in on her story.
She took me all the way back to 1978 when Lee’s brothers came to Albuquerque and decided to stay. They offered to buy her a one-way ticket if she were to enroll at UNM. Lee accepted their challenge in 1979. She took the ticket and enrolled in college. She did so well that she continued on with graduate studies for a Master’s in public administration. After that, Lee worked for the city of Albuquerque for a few years, which evolved somehow into her becoming a community organizer back in NYC. Amazingly, Lee changed courses and went back to school again to study alternative health, which lead her back again to Albuquerque. Today, Lee is a holistic kinesiologist. In her practice she uses electric impulses on clients to figure out what ails them and to make recommendations to solve their woes by use of alternative cures with Chinese herbals, Reiki, and other methods.