How it All Began
My family spent many summers on my grandparents’ small farm in rural Greene County, Tennessee. On these early summer nights, my grandmother and I would sit on the patio snapping farm-fresh green beans—so fresh you could really hear them “snap”--and, when they were all done, I would chase fireflies. Later in the evening, when the dinner dishes were washed and put away and the fireflies had retired for the night, my grandmother would share our family lore. She told me about the day her father accidentally killed himself on his first day on the job as sheriff of Greene County. She also recounted the night, years before, when an extra-terrestrial visited this same farm on a similarly dark night. She certainly knew how to keep my attention.
As the evening slid onward into the night, we would retire to the small kitchen, warmed by the stove, to watch the news and then, always, Johnny Carson. As an overly-curious child, I would rummage through my grandmother’s drawers, ostensibly on a “treasure hunt,” though, in reality, I was just nosy. I would invariably find something of interest and, on one memorable night, I stumbled upon a rectangular brown box that once contained her Bible. It now contained a vast collection of “death,” including bulletins, obituaries, memorial bookmarks, and the piece de résistance: a massive photo collection of dead relatives. I screamed. While I had never seen a dead person before, keeping records and photos of deceased relatives was part of her culture. She would pick a photo and explain, “Now this is your uncle Bobby. Doesn’t he look natural?” She was clearly proud of her collection of natural-looking dead relatives.
While horrified, I was also awed by her family history collection. It triggered something in me, because by age 12 I had embarked on projects of my own, though none of them included dead people. My first self-assigned task was to research and then dutifully type long rosters of the names of every horse, its owner, and the owner’s riding level within all the towns in my riding club. I later supplemented these lists with Super 8 movies and photography, and the end result was a rather primitive but extensive historical equine collection that is now, decades later, appreciated by those riders and their families.
As I entered adolescence, my interest in documenting the people, places, and cultures around me grew. My early photography work, complete with captions and copious lists (always!), covered diverse topics such as dhow trips in the Middle East, family history searches in Appalachia, and musical events in London. Then, not wanting to leave anyone out just because they happened to be dead, I also dug into deep historical archives to rediscover lost history--people, photographs, and music that begged to be resurrected for yet another generation.
I was a documentarian and a rescuer of history it seems--or maybe I had just read one too many Nancy Drew books--but this early foundation gave rise to a fulfilling profession in forensic and clinical psychology. This career path was a natural fit, for it involved interviewing and understanding people, documenting their lives, solving complex diagnostic riddles, and writing reports that had the power to change the trajectory of many lives. But something was missing and, over time, I found that it was “art.” We could specify the academics of these lives, but the art of their lives was a critical missing ingredient. It was time to start anew so, at age 50, I made a resurrection of my own and returned to my first love of photography. Over time, I folded in writing as well as psychology and history when appropriate. Life has come full circle it seems, and I now realize that, in a nutshell, what I really am, now and always have been, is simply…
A story teller.
And here are some of the stories…