The insight came from my friend and mentor, Michael Wilson. I met Michael – or rather forced my work on him – about three years ago. Michael is a wonderful photographer whose talent is surpassed only by his incredible generosity and patience. In reviewing my body of work, Michael observed that I didn’t photograph many people. I admitted I found it hard to approach strangers.
“Have you ever passed someone on the street and your eyes meet for just a split second?” he asked. “Act on that moment of shared humanity.”
I love that. Acting on a moment of shared humanity. It changed everything.
Around the same time the congregation at Nast Trinity Church hired me to make a portrait of the church for their departing pastor. I visited the church on several consecutive Sunday mornings trying to get just the right shot and – in the process – began to interact with the people who gather around Washington Park on Sunday mornings. I felt a powerful affinity for them. I work in the grandeur of Music Hall, but in many ways I feel more connected to the people who live and work and laugh and struggle in the neighborhood that surrounds its walls.
If Michael’s words and Nast Trinity helped me define the who, what, where and when of this project, Tom Martin helped me discover the how.
Tom is a fellow bass player, a former Cincinnatian and former Principal Bass of the London Symphony Orchestra. One day he sent me a message on Facebook: “I have a camera you need to have.” A few weeks later a 1959 Rolicord arrived in the mail. Not only did Tom’s gift enable me to capture medium format film images, it provided an incredible ice breaker. Suddenly I wasn’t approaching people asking to take their picture. They were approaching me wanting to know about the camera.
The last three years has been an epiphany for me. I’ve become part of a community. I’m now welcomed with a “Hey, Picture Man!” (I was hoping for “Hey, Photo Matt,” but it never caught on.) I’ve sent photos of some of my subjects to their mothers and taken their pictures with their friends and loved ones. Some of the people I’ve photographed have died, and the pictures on these walls are the last visible evidence they walked the planet.
There’s a passage in Toni Morrison’s essay Strangers that really resonates with
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