Paul Newcomb sits outside of Kaldi’s Coffee, his guitar resting by his legs. “I’ve been writing music since I was 19, first song in 1982. I fell in love, and I wrote about that.” He has lived in Columbia for his entire life except for when he served in the Navy in 1973.
Athena Shelton sits outside of Lakota Coffee waiting to meet up with some friends. She has lived in California, Iowa, Indiana, Alabama, Florida, and now Ashland, Missouri. “It’s [Ashland] a very very small town, I’m not used to small towns so I don’t really like it. I love Columbia, I try to get out here as much as possible.”
Tom Rote, dressed up for Halloween, enjoys the mild fall day in downtown Columbia. Rote, an aeronautical engineer, has built hot air balloons in the shape of corn on the cob and a football. Now, he lives on a farm outside of town. “I went to Des Moines Tech and decided it was way too cold there so I went south to Missouri. I bought an oak tree farm and now I’ve been here 30 years.”
Looking back on this project, I’m happy with the pictures I took. It was one of my first times using a camera of that caliber so I was nervous I was going to really mess it up. Cameras are very complicated, but I looked at my notes and was able to figure it out.
I was hesitant to stop people walking down the street because I didn’t want to disturb them from their day, so I looked for people who were sitting down and seemed like they would have time to talk to me.
When I was talking to people I thought I was getting a lot. I talked with each person for several minutes and I had a nice conversation with them. When it came time to take what they said and make captions, I realized I didn’t know as much as I thought. The more I looked at what I had gotten from them, the more questions I had. At the time when I was interviewing them, I wasn’t sure what I could ask. I wasn’t sure what was too personal to ask a stranger. For instance, Paul Newcomb was in the Navy, but I didn’t know how to ask him about that, or if it was appropriate for me to do so. Also, Athena Shelton has lived in six different states and she’s only a teenager, but again I wasn’t sure if I would be crossing a line by asking why she had moved so much.
Thinking about it now, I think I would’ve asked those questions if I did the project over. Even after this one experience I feel so much more confident about talking to strangers. Not that I’m uncomfortable talking to strangers, but this was different. I’ve never sat down with a random person and had a conversation with them on the spot while thinking about, and I’ve never asked someone I don’t know if I could take their picture.
I liked this project a lot. I really enjoy looking at photographs, so it was fun to be the one taking them for a change. Mary Beth’s talk with us helped motivate me to get out there and as she said “have fun with it.” I had more fun than I thought I would. Once the conversation got rolling and I relaxed and started engaging more naturally with the person, I almost forget the reason I was there.