The Windsor Hotel in Americus, Georgia was dedicating its newly remodeled tea room when it happened.
The tea room was being dedicated to Rosslyn Carter, wife of former President Jimmy Carter and they were both there.
A small receiving line was formed. The owner of the hotel and his wife joined the former President and First Lady as they greeted the guests. I was busy taking photographs of the guests as they passed through the receiving line.
When the last guest was greeted, Mrs. Carter stepped over to a small table that had been prepared with different snacks and brands of tea. After taking a couple of photographs of her, I looked around the room to see what else I could capture.
Standing in front of one of the old fashioned large windows overlooking the street was the former President. The light from the fading afternoon sun was behind him. He was standing alone, his hands folded in front of him as he watched the swirl and motion of people in the room. I was struck.
Here in front of me is a man that at one time was the most powerful man in the world. A few words from him and armies would march, navies would sail and dictators would be toppled. The world’s monetary system saw its interest rise and fall based on how he felt when he got out of bed; a President with health problems would get the world’s attention. And yet, here he was a solitary figure standing alone close to the corner looking like your grandfather or mine.
If I could’ve raised the camera and snapped the shutter, the photograph would have been passed around the world on the internet; a solitary figure.
My life is full of moments that are begging to be captured. The haze on the peaks that give the Smokey Mountains their name; a 16th century brig under full sail in the Atlantic; a Presidential candidate telling his story before thousands; a herd of 300 buffalo stampeding straight at me in Washington State; being on stage with Elton John and Leon Russell as they kick off their reunion tour; being just feet away from President Obama as he trips the switch lighting the National Christmas Tree; being in the middle of a whirlpool of protesters in the National Mall as they march to “Take Back Congress”; being alone in a pine forest in Georgia as the snow falls quietly. Many photos have begged to be taken and many more are calling for me now.
There are 300 million reasons I keep going and doing. Each person who lives in this country has a story. A story of how they’ve been affected by social justice – or injustice depending on your point of view. They don’t have a voice to tell their stories. I have a passion to be that voice. To give sound to the silence that mainstream, national media has imposed on anyone that dares to speak out about how the government has been co-opted by corporations and the 99% loses in the battle.
The Iraq war veteran in Arkansas who is being overlooked by the very country he served; the black lady in Mississippi who went back to school despite being 78 years old just to fulfill a wish from her girlhood; the lady in Idaho who held a pillow to her father’s face since there was no money for hospice. The stories are endless. In my time of traveling America and doing what I do, I’ve learned many things. But the lesson most pertinent today is, “Everyone has a story and everyone wants to tell it.”
One photojournalistic that is calling me is somewhere inside Camp Ashraf about 30 minutes northeast of Baghdad. Camp Ashraf is an Iranian dissident camp that was established in 1988. I won’t get into the politics here; you can read that somewhere else online. There are approximately 400 Americans in the camp as social workers who are giving of themselves to help make life livable in a hellish situation. While I was in Washington I met the Iraqi Ambassador to the U.S. He said he wanted to pay my way over there and back if I would get the truth behind the story. When I assured him I would and asked why he was picking me when hundreds of photojournalists would love the opportunity he smiled, pointed at me and said, “You. You have no family. You killed, nothing lost. You go.”
I’m not afraid of dying. To me death is no different than stepping outside of Starbucks to smoke another cigarette. Merely going from one realm of existence to another. A chance to see what is over the next hill or around the next bend in the road.
A few years ago I was doing a gig on the Cherokee Reservation in western North Carolina. The tribal chief, an old man with a thick accent had been following my trips and travels as they showed up online. Somehow during the conversation the subject of death and dying came up. He looked at me and said, “You not afraid to die because you not afraid to live.”
I had open heart surgery in March 2009. With four bypasses being done, recovery was rough. The best description of this type surgery I’ve heard is, “They crack your chest open and play handball with your heart.”
But I can’t stop doing what I do.
As I write this, I am just hours away from heading towards Nogales to cover the “border wars”. Three photojournalists have been killed there in the past month and people keep asking me if I’m afraid. I try to answer their questions, but they just don’t understand.
The photographs and the stories keep calling me, begging to be taken and begging to be told.