I have been working on a major photography project for a couple of years. As I say on my photography website:
“I am traveling around the world to shoot The People, my long-term portrait series. My ultimate goal is to amass well over one thousand simple portraits that foster empathy and a better understanding of the world and its people. Think visual ethnography. I’ve now made over 330 portraits in Mexico and Selma, Alabama. Next stops are Havana, Cuba, Indonesia, and Argentina.”
I was in Selma Alabama for three weeks in November. I was graciously accepted into the community and took 140 individual portraits. The pre-planning process and working in a new environment is one of the most interesting aspects of the project. I can’t just parachute in and hope that I find the people I want to photograph. I need some local help. For example, my upcoming trip to Havana in February is being set up by a large Cuban family. I’ll arrive having 30 brand-new friends.
I love this stuff.
Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church
I knew when I headed to Selma that I wanted to photograph members of an African American church. Sure, I know, a stereotype, but, iconic nonetheless. Churches are an important element of any Southern community portrait.
On my second Sunday, Pastor James Perkins, Jr invited me to attend the service at the Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church. Pastor Perkins had even prepped the congregation that a photographer with a big white background was coming.
I arrived at the church during the sermon. Pastor Perkins was preaching about how we all have different personal “languages” – different ways of communicating. As an example, he mentioned that if the congregation was going to reach out and be meaningful to young people, then the younger members of the congregation needed to be the church’s voice. The older folks simply do not speak the same language as sixteen-year-olds. It was during the sermon that I realized that my “language” is photography. A seemingly obvious, but meaningful revelation.
As the sermon was ending the lady users put on their white gloves and when the congregation began to sing hymns, the ladies took my hands and held tight.
I began to cry.