Roots Workshop 2016: Storytelling in Maine

Each year I sign up for workshops and/or retreats as a way to push myself as a photographer and as a storyteller. Last year I really wanted to get back to my photojournalism days and immerse myself in watching, sensing and capturing moments and the essence of my subjects. Connection is a big part of why I do what I do and this project was a learning process in creating connection with a total stranger, who at first was reluctant to have her photo taken.

In May I spent a week in Maine at the Roots Workshop telling the story of a beautiful woman who touched my heart. Eunice is 85 years old and lives in Belfast, Maine. She runs a hardware store that she and her husband bought over forty years ago. When her husband died 18 years ago Eunice took over. She had never worked in the store so this was a new adventure for her. Eunice has Macular Degeneration and is legally blind. Despite this challenge she knows where everything is and can bring customers right to what they need. She’s also a very determined soul and I think that is what keeps her going.

At first when I asked Eunice to be my subject she wasn’t too keen on the idea. The thought of me following her around for two days wasn’t something she was comfortable with; can you blame her? Even still she allowed me to do my thing and said she would just ignore me, which is exactly what I wanted. I got to watch her interact with customers, and during quiet times Eunice and I shared personal stories. I think she started to trust me and that’s when the magic happened.

Customers who were regulars would say hello to Eunice and either ask for her help or engage in a conversation. Eunice was quick to know who was who, and if she didn’t know you she would come around the counter to see how she could help. Many times I saw customers refuse help, but a “no thanks” was not enough to keep Eunice from following them down an aisle. She was determined, direct, but also charming, and it was a delight to see her in action.

My assignment to tell the story of Eunice had its challenges but ultimately it helped me to be a better photographer and a better human. I learned to be patient, to trust in moments I knew were coming, connect with my subject, and to look a little deeper. There were so many lessons and I am so appreciative of what I learned and the people I met.