A man who is smitten. That’s Ray, my stranger 90/100.
At the time I photographed Ray, he was 22 years old, the father of two precious little girls (4 yrs., and 3 mos), and engaged to a woman who amazes him (Brittany, No.89). Everything that matters to Ray revolves around his nuclear family, which lifts his pride and supplies his life with purpose.
Before capturing this portrait, I photographed Ray with his three ladies. Here, we see the moment when he revealed to me the tattoo on his inner arm; usually obscured by its placement and covered in clothing. Ray explained that he wrote the words to himself. He had them lettered in free-hand style onto his skin. The words are positioned for the benefit of his ease of reading the words.
Family, like branches / on a tree we all grow in / different directions yet / our roots remain as one
In three words, Brittany described Ray as, “loving, strong, and caring.”
Ray currently works in a medical facility in a role that is not physically taxing, though the hours are long. He prepares supplies and equipment for people who get pheresis. Ray explained pheresis to me as process where components of blood (such as plasma, leukocytes, or platelets) are collected from a donor and then the remaining blood is transfused back to the same donor. Other times it’s used as a treatment to remove from blood certain harmful substances that can cause swelling in the organs of ill patients; for example, persons living with sickle cell disease or leukemia.
In a previous job, Ray worked as a health aide for people who are elderly and infirm. While it was very challenging work, he observed that small acts of kindness were received with gratitude. It comes naturally to him to want to be helpful to those he loves. Ray alternates his work schedule to coordinate with that of his partner. One of them is always present to care for their children. On the occasion of our meeting, Ray was relieving Brittany from pushing their infant stroller.
Ray explained that when their free time overlaps, which isn’t often enough, they enjoy family walks together so the girls get fresh air and they can all take in pleasant scenery outdoors. That’s why they were at the Botanical garden in the ABQ Biopark when we met.
I could not be help be lifted by the encounter with this young man Ray, his fiancée, and their children. A song came to my mind while I was recalling the warmth of our meeting and the feeling I had afterwards, which was long-lasting. You may be familiar with Joe Cocker’s version of the song because it was popularized when used in a 1982 movie, An Officer and a Gentleman: “Up Where We Belong.”
The movie was rated-R, and I was only 11 years-old when it was on large screens being enjoyed by theater goers. To this day, I still haven’t seen it. But this song, “Up Where We Belong,” was unavoidable on the radio in the 1980s; and frequently played well into the 1990s at weddings, proms and high-school dances. Since this musical reference hearkens back to popular culture from 34 years ago, and knowing that many readers here weren’t then alive, or were living outside American culture, now I can take advantage of the multimedia format to share two videos to bring you up-to-speed.
First, you can here enjoy the songwriter’s version of the song, performed by musician Buffy Sainte-Marie, who wrote the melody with her husband with collaboration of lyrics by a colleague. Afterwards you can watch a video clip from when Olivia Newton-John (wow, she typifies 1980s fashion!) presents the Oscar® for Music (Song) to Jack Nitzsche, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Will Jennings for “Up Where We Belong” at the 55th Academy Awards in 1983.
Ray’s tattoo are like these lyrics, and the feeling evoked in me at our meeting.
As the acceptance speech is underway, you’ll be able to witness the joy and love between Jack Nitzsche and Buffy Sainte-Marie: lovesongs don’t fall out of thin air.
As a mother, I will add one final dense post-script to this love story theme, as tipped-off by Ray’s stranger portrait. It pertains to Mr. Sainte-Marie’s origin story and some of the ways she had sought to lift up others, all facilitated by her musical success.
Born Beverly Sainte-Marie on Feb. 20, 1941, on the Piapot Cree First Nation reserve in the Qu’Appelle Valley, Saskatchewan, Canada, she became orphaned by the sudden deaths of both of her parents. Beverly was adopted by family relatives Albert and Winifred Sainte-Marie, partially of Mi’kmaq Native American descent. She was nicknamed Buffy, and raised in Massachusetts. She taught herself to play piano at 3 years old, and began setting her poems to music at the age of four. She has had a successful musical career made notable for protest songs in the 1960s. Moreover, I uncovered that in 1969 she established the Nihewan Foundation for Native American Education, it aims to help Native American students participate in learning about their culture. Out of that came a partnership with the W. K. Kellog Foundation who provided startup funds to jumpstart the Cradleboard Teaching Project in 18 states.
There are many references in this post: from a medical condition, to a popular culture movie with an Oscar-winning song, to an influential songwriter using her fame and success to support others. Meeting and photographing a stranger can lead the photographer down a rabbit hole with an entry into the unknown. That path can narrow towards discovery and emotional resonance; it can be more than the opportunity of honing technical mastery with one’s camera gear.
If you have taken on a 100 Strangers project, tell us about one of your encounters that lead you down an unexpected interior journey. Where did you go? What did you learn or feel? Were you surprised? What impact did the portrait leave on you?