[67/100 Strangers]: Shirley


[67/100 Strangers]: Shirley

When I approached three friends who were about to eat some ears of roasted corn at the Rail Yards Market, I circled back in my mind to my first five stranger encounters. I considered how to do better at directing each person, despite them being in a group. Foremost was making sure the individuals would look where I wanted them to look; whether at my lens or a point in the distance. Secondly, I wanted to take the portraits as fast as I could to avoid being overwhelmed by the group dynamics and personalities.

With Carolyn (No.66) and Tex (No.65), I’d done these two things. When it came time to photograph Shirley, 67/100 of my strangers, the two concerns were still on my mind. The personalities were strong, and I wanted a portrait that would make her as happy as it would me.

Shirley was sitting between her two friends. She actually had begun to eat her cooled-off corn while I was photographing the others. It didn’t bother her to put down the corn and reapply a second coat of lipstick before we gave the picture taking a go. Who among us would deny an 83 year-old her vestige of vanity and pride? And no, I didn’t ask her age. Tex let it slip and Carolyn pooh-poohed him, saying that a woman should guard her true age to maintain an air of mystery.

Shirley had taken great care to assemble herself for the outing with her friends. She was wearing a flower themed outfit with a symphony of matching costume jewelry; a flower patterned blouse that tied together her upswept hair and makeup colors. Receiving my attention and the chance to share about herself animated her quite a bit. I had to ask her to pause and hold still a few times; not to worry about smiling for my camera; face me and not her friends.

While this was going on, Shirley and her story telling and me trying to photograph her had earned us an audience. An additional stranger who had been standing near us for a tarot card reading decided to step out of line to observe and comment on our goings on. Would you believe that my taking a stranger’s portrait could be more compelling than a fellow holding a live goose over a tarot deck to select cards and divine his customers’ fortunes? I can’t make up this stuff.

I really wanted a portrait with Shirley looking in my direction, so I stayed with it until I captured this look. Breathing my sigh of relief, it was a cake walk to enjoy some further time listening to Shirley’s recollections.

Shirley is from the Black Hills of South Dakota, near Mount Rushmore. She promised me that the Black Hills National Park and the Mount Rushmore monument, “were worth a visit and for more than one day.” Shirley lived near it most of her life and still thinks it’s wonderful.

She gave me a quick education about Black Hills Gold, a specialized gold alloy fashioned into nature themed pieces, and I’d never heard of it before meeting her. Beginning with the gold rush period of the late 1880s, gold was mined in South Dakota, specifically in the Black Hills area. The gold was tooled into alloys that were colored green, pink, and standard gold yellow. When the last local mine closed around 1980, a court ordered that any jewelry labled as “Black Hills Gold Jewelry” had to be made in the Black Hills. This reminded me of the provenance issues related to calling spirits ‘Kentucky Bourbon.’

I asked, but Shirley told me that none of the jewelry on her ensemble was Black Hills Gold Jewelry.

The reason Shirley was in Albuquerque was to be closer to her adult son.

“He started working here, so I moved here,” she said. “I moved here ‘lock stock and smoking barrel,’ but my heart is always going to be in the Black Hills…I was born and raised on a homestead. It’s the same one that is now the largest, longest operating homestead in South Dakota. When I was a little girl, I got up before sunrise and did my farm chores. Then I rode a horse to a one room school house that had a potbelly stove and a coal bin in the corner. Every student had their own desk, but we only had 6 or 7 students. I learned everything I needed in that little house.”

Shirley, the oldest of her present company of friends, is also the most up-to-date with current technology. She has an IPhone, and an email address. She volunteered to be the point-of-contact for me where I should send the images that could be downloaded and printed out and put into a slideshow on her phone. She received the individual portraits and praised them. But her favorite was the double portrait that I made of her with Carolyn while they finally had their chance to eat the corn.

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