I hangout with the guests of Friendship Park about two or three times a month. We sit and talk and sometimes they will ask, “Hey remember the photograph you took of me? Can I get another one? I was rolled last week.”
I give the guests a small black-and-white print after I photograph them. It’s a physical object, something from their life they can share with friends and family.
The problem is guests get robbed or “rolled” a lot, as often as once a month.
Imagine you wake up blinking the morning sun from your eyes, looking around where you lay on the ground and slowly realize in a panic everything is gone: drivers license, social security card, bus pass, school I.D., medications, cash and family photos all gone.
The sum of your progress and forward momentum, to get out and away from living outside, eclipsed by bad luck and the ugliness of greed.
Boxing your way through each day you know theft will happen again. What will you do? Do you give up and give in or do you fight on and persevere only to wake up to know, as you sit alone, hope could leave your hands once more.
John stood up and placed the worn bible he was reading on a small suitcase behind the backdrop. He slowly walked over to the library chair.
As he sat down and positioned himself, John’s lower back, neck and hands put his grueling work history on parade.
Concrete and heavy construction work busted him up pretty good. Endless years of hard labor grinding down his body against time, perseverance and the need for food, shelter and fun.
“You know the Psalms don’t seem like Psalms — they don’t even seem like poetry at all,” John says. “When you are all alone not much makes sense.”
My behind the scenes image of Rev. F.D. Reese and Kathryn Mayo from the “Selma Portrait project” was selected as one of the years best by National Geographic your shot community. I received this email yesterday from Matt Adams, associate photo editor at National Geographic.
“Hi Douglas, Congratulations for being selected as one of Your Shot’s best photos of 2018! This community boasts some of the best photography on the Internet (in our opinion) so thank you for being here and sharing with us! You can find the Best of Your Shot 2018 gallery in the link below. Keep up the great work and we’ll see you in 2019!”
I’m happy and humbled to be included in the selection.
If you’d like to see the portrait of Rev. F.D. Reese that Kathryn made after this image was taken you can see it here: Selma Portrait Project Blog
Richard has battled epilepsy and mental illness his entire life. Born during Eisenhower’s last term in office the doctors in Richard’s hometown of Iowa proposed “treatments” to help with his disabilities. His parents blocked that medical plan, which included a lobotomy.
Richard says he loved camping, looking at the stars, and swimming as a boy. He learned the ways of the woods from his Native American counselors. His Dad taught him how to ride a bike without training wheels too, but most of all he loved playing board games. Richard was called the “game master” and the local newspaper featured him for his passion of games. His favorites include Scrabble, Mousetrap by Mattel, Chinese checkers, Dominos and Clue.
“My Mom and Dad were gentle, kind and loving and didn’t mistreat my sister and I because we were handicapped,” Richard says, “My Dad was a prisoner of war in Korea. He taught me that kindness and patience and understanding for others and being positive in life is the best way to live.”
Richard says every time he had a job eventually his epilepsy took hold and shook him without mercy, labeled a liability by his employers he was terminated. Determined to work and refusing to get disability he traveled the country going from job to job working in hotels, restaurants and thrift stores.
“I wanted to keep working as long as I could. I’m almost 60 and I am on disability now,” Richard says. “I get up early in the morning before the sunrise, while the stars are still out. I take my tent down and pack up, grab my shopping cart, and take everything to my storage unit and get myself ready for the day.”
The same stars Richard saw camping as a boy he sees now as man traveling from the river woods into to town, finding a safe place to rest and get a meal at Friendship Park.
“It’s better to live in the woods than to live in a hostile environment,” Richard says “If you keep it negative, you are just going to stay where you’re at. When you start being positive, you move forward–eventually you will get out of that rut in no time.”