Have I used this photograph before? I don't know. I have run out of photographs here on my laptop at my mother's. I'm sure I have some in the vast archives stored on the many hard drives at home. At home right now I have six 4x5 negatives drying in the sink, two color and four b&w. I will scan them today, but they are simple Covid pictures of houses and trees, etc.
Yesterday, during the long, slow transition from daylight to sunset, my mother and I sat outside in the muggy heat and humidity swatting mosquitoes and drinking our medicinal gin and tonics against whatever larval infections those bloodsuckers are certain to transfer. I was telling her how I had occupied the few hours I had spent away from her, describing the difficulties of using the big Liberator camera and saying how imbecilic it was, really, when she asked me what I was taking photographs of. I was stunned.
"I don't know. Nothing. A pond with a boy fishing. Some signs. A building."
My mother looked at me with a sort of hillbilly amusement like I was one of the simple relatives who isn't quite all there.
"Well, it is hard, like I say, but I think I have gotten the whole process down now. I can get a picture every time. Before, not so much. It has just been practice, really."
Blah, blah, blah. It is like the times your parents would ask you to perform a song for guests who really didn't want to hear you sing or play guitar or harmonica or whatever it was you were supposed to do.
"Now I need a project," I said foundering.
"I'm not sure. I thought about taking my camera to some small town farmers markets and putting up a sign that says 'Free Photographs,' you know?"
It was obvious she didn't. So I did what you do. I fell back on arcane knowledge to show I knew what I was saying.
"I have a book of portraits in your living room you may have looked at by Disfarmer. No? Oh, man, he had a photo studio in Arkansas or Nebraska in the '30s and '40's. . . ."
Whatever. The sinking feeling, the bottomless pit of ridiculous stupidity when you think more words delivered in an officious tone will save you. . . . Somebody--throw me a lifeline!
I got the camera out of the car and showed her how it worked. She looked at me like I was trying to sell her a Kirby vacuum cleaner.
Oh, were I to make those pictures, she would see then. I'm sure she would be fascinated.
Later, as dinner was cooking, I put on YouTube and watched an interview about the new William Eggleston book that Steidl is publishing, three volumes for $450. My mother looked at those Egglestons like they were five headed chickens.
I guess I'm living in a very small part of the world.
But one among you will say, "What a GREAT idea! You should do it!" Maybe two. And I should. I really should.
If someone will just make me the sign.