PERSONAL // Words // Into the Fog
There's a time and a place for everything. It goes the same for photos; especially nowadays when our world is image centered and everything is instantly shared. This past weekend, I spent a few days taking over an Instagram account called I Love Texas Photo. This account by its name pretty much gives local Texas photographers and residents alike a chance to contribute photos that highlight their world living in our great state. I thought, "How fun this would be!" and I was giddy over the huge amount of exposure one could get. ILTP has over 12,000 followers and it continues to grow.
As the days past and my time to take up the baton drew near, my good ol' neurotic senses kicked in. I got nervous (of course). Really nervous (as always). And for some reason, the pressure to shoot a photo that entertained thousands of people began to overwhelm me. I wanted exciting content and I wanted to travel to remote and unfamiliar hotspots of Texas just so that all my pictures would have a "Wow!" factor. I just wanted to make sure all my content was good.
Then my three days began. I was rushing around and searching my brain. Where could I go? What could I shoot? What was it about Texas that I loved? What should I write with the photos? Should I be funny or deep? Lost and confused, I began to just drive around in my car. Relentlessly, I searched for "cool" things to photograph. I tried to come up with neat captions but I came up dry. I eventually decided to head to Plano to a little white house seated in the most random area of downtown Plano, Texas.
This house - I always felt a strong affinity with - not that you could have a deep relationship with a thing much less a house. But for whatever reason, I had an undeniable connection to this place and felt the need to photograph it. I used to attend a church nearby the house. On Sunday mornings, I would pass the house conjuring ideas to shoot a great American editorial photo spread with the white structure as a backdrop. That idea never happened. I never took the time to just stop and take pictures. Now, a few years later, I find myself staring at it face to face with camera in hand drawn again by some unknown magnetic force.
As I approached the house, I timidly walked the perimeter taking several photos trying to make myself look like I'm not some hooligan. I figured the faster I snap some photos, the least likely I am to get in trouble for trespassing. And as we all know, in Texas, you're allowed to shoot anyone with a real gun if they are on your private property. However, the longer I stayed, the more curious I became. I inched closer surveying walls and cracks, peering through slivers in the windows, and even touching the old painted wood walls. The only opening that had any sort of view was the front door window. Cautiously, I walked right up and pushed my forehead to the dirty stained glass. Readjusting my eyes, I scanned the interior making sense of the space amidst a cloudy window pane. All I could gather were several chairs and random paint supplies scattered around. Disappointed, I turned my head, ready to return home when I was confronted with a woman staring at me from her white sedan with a concerned look on her face. Shielding her eyes from the glaring hot sun, she carefully asked me, "Can I help you?" My first reaction was to make clear I wasn't out for trouble and I definitely wasn't here to vandalize the place. Shortly, the woman with weathered blue eyes changed her expression the moment I explained my purpose. She became instantly friendly the second I mentioned my unexplainable attraction to the building. With a sense of trust now formed, I asked her what she could tell me about the house. Did it have a name? Does anyone live there? All these questions came to mind and I asked her earnestly, "Can you tell me about them"? And she said, "Sure I can."
"I wrote a book about it."
Jackpot. How incredible that the one time I gather the courage to take photos of this white house that I would also meet a woman who knows all about it?! It was destiny. It just had to be. Janice Clark. A Plano local and a writer passionate about preserving the history and stories of her city. For a little awhile, we just stood there chatting. The white house - The Wetsel House is adjacent another historic home called the Mitchell house. In great length, Janice told me how she became involved in her city, taking initiative to save these houses, building a new roof for it, and how she befriended the owners of them. And now on this serendipitous or perhaps fateful day, she returned to the house in order to gather more notes & photos for a second book.
I was so incredibly grateful and honored that this moment happened to me. A story had fallen into my hands - one I was so desperately seeking. I stuck around and followed her for a bit as she related more of the city's past. Even Janice, as she spoke, sensed that our paths crossing had more importance than we could ever imagined. I happily volunteered to photograph some photos for references towards her new book. Soaking up any detail or nuance that I could find was further more enriched by this woman's knowledge.
Upon asking to take her photo, she heartily laughed about the whole thing. Amused by my earnestness to snap her portrait, she said, "You know I never thought I would be the one getting my picture taken. It's not even about me." I placed my camera down. Looking right at her, I replied "But you're part of the story now." Her expression changed. It wasn't bad. For a split second, I think we both were surprised by what I said. But as that thought sank in, I realized now I too had become a part of the story.
All this has reawakened the photojournalist in me - that part which I often dismiss. I'm thrilled that I'll be returning to the Wetsel & Mitchell houses a second time with Janice to help document more research for her book. And I'm particularly excited for the story about to unfold.
For more information and to purchase her book, please email Janice C. Clark at firstname.lastname@example.org.