The Stories Just Below the Surface- finding a photo essay that’s staring you in the face

Everyone has a story.  An overused statement, but true.  Every person has an interesting aspect of their lives and a story to tell.  Sometimes those stories are right in front of us and we just need to open our eyes and look at our surroundings a little different.

Its been a little while since I’ve actually done a documentary photography project, just for the sake of itself.  I’ve spent the last few months wandering about and I’ve run across some good stories but none that leaped out at me and said- “here I am and I’m a fascinating story!”  In fact, most of the stories to this point have been excellent as a written story, which has been a wonderful, happy accident.

But now I’ve landed in this odd little community that seems to have a story under every rock and every RV and its almost overwhelming to know where to start.  I have several story ideas that have been bouncing around in my head since my last visit seven years ago, and while I will incorporate them into the larger story, just knowing where to start and with what person or subject is a challenge.

My Aunt and her cousin playing Skip-Bo before dinner.

My Aunt and her husband's cousin playing Skip-Bo before dinner.

Several nights ago, I sat around the dinner table with my aunt and her friends playing cards and talking about their day.  My aunt had prepared the ingredients for a stir-fry but had yet to start cooking, they were engrossed in their game of Skip-Bo.  My uncle is a man who takes charge when he has a desired outcome, and for a man in his mid-eighties, this has taken him far in life.  So, he just walks over to the stove and starts turning on the burners and fiddling with the food.  My aunt is fussing at him and laughing at the same time, trying to wrestle him out of the the tiny kitchen of the single wide trailer and win her card game.  I started to take photos with my cell phone and as I was composing my pictures, it hit me.  This is my story.  Its right in front of me.

My uncle initiating dinner preparations.

My family owns an RV park in the deserts of Arizona in a town where the population swells from a few thousand to a million during January and February when the snowbirds and the swap meets and gem stone traders all converge on this tiny little town.  Its a clash of so many demographics it boggles the mind when you first arrive.  My uncle bought the RV park, named Happy J’s, many decades ago and has kept his park simple and family oriented.   The surrounding parks have all expended and embraced modernity, adding WiFi and other amenities.  The main house, or single wide trailer is where they stay and is a community gathering location for the residents of the RV park, many of whom are in their 70s and 80s.  Soup luncheons, family style dinners and coffee on the porch are a regular occurrence.  And each person that lives here, be it for a couple months in the winter or year round, has almost a century of history within them.

One of the couples left to return to their home and most of the park stopped by to say goodbye.  They had reserved this spot for many years and made it their second home.  But due to the husband’s failing health, they decided to vacate their beloved spot and return to their permanent home near their children in Colorado.  It was rather sad to watch, because for many of them, this could be their last goodbye.  I started to look at the community a little differently in watching this farewell and began to ask some internal questions.

Will the generation behind this one pick up the retirement reins and follow suit or is this the final generation that will be able to retire and live this lifestyle?  Will there be more people embracing this alternative lifestyle later in life or will they be unable to leave their lifestyles behind for this simpler way of living?  Or will my generation get fed up with the system that was created and implemented by this older generation and embrace their mode of retirement earlier in our lives?

So, my project will be about Happy J’s trailer park.  And will branch into the community through the members of the park, Jack the manager and president of the Gem and Mineral Club, Roma, the sweet little woman in the corner trailer who is a Bingo hound and loves to gamble, and the few who I have yet to meet but whose stories are fascinating- I’m sure.

I believe there is a broader story as well about the town, an essay about Quartzsite.  The Reader’s Oasis with the owner who is a nudist and wears just a hat and shoes to work, the born again christian of the Rainbow Family who bikes to every destination and has chose a life without possessions, the vendors who sell their wares at the local swap meet, the daily auction under the big tent and the desert golf tournament (desert golf involves one club and getting the ball in the giant circle in the sand that surrounds the “hole”).

So, I am going to take you on the journey with me as I document these stories.  I will post an article or essay on the days that I shoot and talk about both the process and the subjects.  I will be shooting black and white film- yes, FILM! And will also take you through that process- once the processing starts.  Join me on the journey of creating a photo essay.  could be interesting!


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