Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Local Heroes

Fifteen years ago, after I resigned my corporate position, I thought I'd wander in and out of downtown establishments and get to know the local heroes.  I think I devoted one morning to the project before becoming involved in other things and forgetting all about it.

When our friends, Jerry and Kathy, from St. Louis, arrived last Friday, Jerry began to explain his idea of a working vacation.  He wanted to photograph some Virginians who carry the experiences of their lives in their faces.  He'd given us a bit of an advance warning, so Karen and I had begun listing candidates.  We weren't sure what he had in mind, but his blog had offered guidance (

Kathy and Jerry jumped into the local music scene by joining us at a twice yearly music party thrown by our dear friends, David and Linda Krantz.  A couple months before each party, David and Linda invite folks to register for 10-20 minute slots. The result is an eclectic mix of music performed by musicians with varied skill levels -- from novices to regular professional performers.  Jerry had a double motive -- to hear some interesting music and find models.

Soon after we arrived, I began to realize that something about Jerry's proposition was motivating me to resurrect my dream of wandering among local heroes.  I was surprised by how many of them I knew.  So I wandered.

We were so preoccupied with the party we forgot to pick up goat feed.  As a result, Saturday found us on an outing to Lexington.  "Whoa," said Jerry, as he spotted an empty storefront.  He pulled into a parking spot and dialed the number on the "FOR RENT" sign.  "This guy's serious," I thought.  "Would you be interested in renting this space for a day or two?" he asked the lessor.  A back-and-forth exchange followed, with a call-back or two, and, wouldn't you know, he'd rented the space for Monday and Tuesday.

By Sunday afternoon, our hunt for portrait subjects had resumed with a sense of urgency as had Jerry's planning, which obviously had been clicking through his brain for quite some time.  Monday morning was filled with preparations, as Jerry and his new assistant, me, proceeded to track down models and a few props for the unfurnished space -- a cardtable, a computer stand, a stool, and some bottled water.  We also visited City Hall to see if we needed a business license and to find a fax machine to receive the certificate of liability insurance required by the lessor. We arrived at 115 S. Main fifteen minutes early.

At 11:01, Sallie the lessor sallied forth.  "You're a minute late," said Jerry, somehow confident she would take it with the good humor he intended.  He was right; Sallie did.  We proceeded to set up the equipment Jerry had packed into the back of his Honda Pilot.  I changed into a tux shirt and bow tie, becoming the new studio's test case.  Soon I made a follow-up phone call and, as luck would have it, one of our prize candidates was hooked.  "I drove 800 miles to take your picture," Jerry repeated the line he had used on Rooster at the Krantz party on Friday night.  A half hour later the posing stool was no longer mine.  Jerry's dream was off and running.

Mine, too.  After two sessions, my dream resumed.  We strolled around town, like two Mormons on a mission trip, dropping in on possible subjects.  At Jerry's nod, negotiations would begin, or a shake of his head and off we'd go.  By 2 PM Tuesday, when his lease ran out, Jerry had completed nine sittings and I'd talked to more than twenty local heroes.

"I wish you'd let me pose," says Virginia.


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