The Eyes Have It November 28 2009, 0 Comments

What do you do when you find yourself in a situation in which taking a photograph is the most inappropriate, insensitive thing you could do? Normally, I would say take it anyway. As a rule, you capture the moment. It is your job as a photographer. But last weekend I broke the rule.

Once in a while we are given the gift of looking through the window of a stranger’s soul. It is a look that wins the Pulitzer. Hauntingly, it is a look that stays with us. Such was the gift I was given last weekend. I had gone to Pennsylvania to meet with a man who needed product photos. I spent much of this past year doing product photography, so I thought it would be a fine way to round out the year.

Before my meeting, I had the privilege of touring the Gettysburg battlefield with a historian. Not being a history buff myself, it was a pleasure to learn what I should have learned back in school and to take in the enormity of what happened there. I was feeling great and looking forward to my business meeting. But the meeting was just short of a disaster. After an hour, which was all I could take, I could see that this project was going no-where. Cordially as I might, I excused myself.

Pleased to have escaped the unfortunate lunacy, I ducked into a local shop that was going out of business. Inside, standing there to greet me was a man whose dream had come to an end. What it is about the way a person’s eyes greet you when they have lost something very precious to them? Waiting for my business partner to join me, I spoke with this slender, dark haired man who explained that he had owned this business for 15 years, and that the decline in the economy over this past year had made it impossible for him to stay open. He tried to say that all would be well. By then my business partner had joined me. As we continued to listen, all we could hear was that his dreams had been shattered. His eyes gave him away. I thought about how much it would have meant to have captured his countenance but for so weary a man, surely taking a camera out to capture such emotion would be unpardonably wrong.

Even in the press of his compellingly sad circumstances, he invited us to see more of his inventory in his living quarters above the store. We were lead to the second floor. The entry way which was filled with books and glass from his shop was dark. From there he led us through the main rooms of his home. Antiques filled every available space. I had been transported to the time of Lincoln. The man was living in a museum! Sharing in the delight he saw in our interest, his eyes lifted and his countenance brightened a little. Room after room we were presented with a glimpse into a portion our nations historical past.

Descending the steps which took us back to the street, his eyes again went dark. As I began to walk away without a single photograph, I glanced back to see him place a “closed” sign in the window, turn off the lights and lock the door to his dream.