Queenie & Friends at the Reindeer Parade, 1975
Every now and then you read a good line from someone that sticks with you. You wish you’d come up with it, or could come up with something like it if confronted with the right moment.
One line I’ve been trying to find a use for comes from a blog formerly kept by photographer David Allen Harvey. Harvey abandoned the blog several years ago. But before he did he showed some photographs of friends of his who are missionaries. They’d been off to Asia or Africa or some other place where Christian missionaries are eyed with suspicion. But unlike the Prices in Barbara Kingsolver’s wonderful Poisonwood Bible or the fundamentalist Quarriers in Peter Matthiessen’s At Play in the Fields of the Lord, Harvey’s friends, when confronted with an indigenous population not predisposed to accept a lot of Christian mumbo jumbo, adopted a more elegant and arguably effective approach:
“We realized we weren’t going to convert anyone. So we just tried to be helpful.”
Now there’s a practical faith I can get behind. What better example to present than just try to be helpful?
I came across the second line in an interview in the New York Times Magazine about Norris Church Mailer and her marriage to author and serial womanizer Norman Mailer. She was a single mother of a 3-year old son when she met Mailer at a book signing in Arkansas. She was 26 and he was 52. She was taken with him and eventually took her young toddler with her to live in New York to be close to Mailer. She eventually married Mailer and, according to the article, “became stepmother to the seven children he fathered with his five other wives and had another son with him.”
When people ask Norris which of Mailers’ many wives she was, she answers with a forthright answer, “the last one.”
But here comes the good line. When interviewer Alex Witchell clearly tries to draw Mailer into questioning the wisdom of marrying such a famously unfaithful man and taking on the task of his eventually nine children, Norris Church Mailer shows her no-nonsense roots:
“Well. I bought a ticket to the circus. I don’t know why I was surprised to see the elephants.”
A lot of people I’ve met through the years don’t seem to connect the consequences of their actions with decisions that created the conditions that spawned the consequences. I’m not trying to preach about this or act like I’ve never done anything stupid before. But I love Norris Churchill Mailer’s attitude. She knew she was playing with fire.
What does this have to do with photography? It’s like this. Because I can’t always get out every day to take pictures other than what I can find around home or the office, I get frustrated if when I do go out to take pictures I don’t come back with something I like. I’m also realizing that to avoid that happening, I’ve been unconsciously avoiding risk, especially the kind of risk that might result in better work.
You never know. If I jump into the circus, I might just see some elephants.