Hideout, 2005 - from the Cradock series
“People in his fiction have a hard time getting anywhere because they can’t scare up the bus fare.”
Edmund White on Reynolds Price, New York Review of Books, July 2, 2009
While working on the Cradock series of photographs in the spring of 2005, it took me a while to work up the nerve to go into the Afton Restaurant with my camera. The Afton may actually serve enough food to be called a “restaurant,” but mostly it functions as a beer joint for people who haven’t got much else to do, or whose idea of something to do might not be entirely legal. It's not the kind of place that welcomes a stranger with a camera.
But early on a sunny Friday morning with a sky so clear and blue and air so fresh and clean that I felt the hint of possibilities, I decided things in the Afton were probably quiet enough that I could wander in and see what was going on.
I got about three steps in the door before the guys in the photo above start razzing me. They weren’t hostile, but they were also not exactly putting out a welcome mat, either. Fortunately, I’d met two of them before on the street and was able to quickly accelerate the conversation past the hostile, “What the f--- do you want?” stage to the “Let me take your picture” stage.
There was a quick conversation among the three about the wisdom of being photographed drinking beer at the Afton at 10:30 a.m. on a workday. It seems all three had blown off work that day. One was also hiding from his estranged wife, another from a debt collector and the third from the sheriff who was looking to lock him up on outstanding charges.
But the allure of being photographed proved irresistible and they agreed to let me photograph them. Two of the guys lost patience pretty quickly and told me to shove off. The third got into the spirit of things and started clowning around for the camera. Before I knew it, he’d grabbed a chair to stand on and was reaching for a Confederate flag that hung from the ceiling. “You take a picture of me with my flag, camera man! I want ever’body to know I’m a free, white Southern male! Ain’t nobody got anything on me.” (Except, perhaps, that pesky bill collector.)
I never saw that guy again. But I ran into one of the other guys outside the Afton early the next morning. Since I’d seen him, he’d gotten into a fight, gotten beat up pretty bad, lost a few teeth, spent a few hours in the city jail and was still so drunk that he didn’t remember me or that I’d ever taken his picture.