Sunday, August 15, 2021

Close encounters of the first kind

Hondo Valley overlook

Ben Ainsley

I arrived at the road to the John Dunn Bridge and spotted a 1980s Winnebago campervan at the vista point above the Arroyo Hondo Valley. After photographing the bridge and the Rio Grande I drove back up the hill to get a shot of the lush valley of the Rio Hondo. I parked next to the vintage camper and walked to the overlook. Seated on a rock, cigarette in hand, an older gentleman who was younger than I gazed north toward Cebolla Mesa. When I approached the precipice, he rose, walked toward me, and said, “Take my picture. I’m getting married today.” That’s one hell of an intro.

Portrait mode.

As directed

I said yes, positioned him in front of a juniper and took a couple of shots. He projected sadness and not the joy one might expect. I told him to show me the mood befitting the day at hand. We walked back to the camper, and I photographed him there. He boasted, “I bought it for $2,200.”

Ben and van

An homage to Lenny Foster's Healing Hands series. Lousy photograph but the spirit abides.
Father and son

Inside the van he had built a shrine to his son who had died “many years ago.” He pointed at his photograph, lit another smoke and poured himself two fingers of whisky.

He was getting married that afternoon and Bobby Duran was going to be his best man.

“Bobby’s my best friend. Do you know him?”

I answered that I knew of  him. He used to be the mayor of Taos. I didn’t add that he operates a non-descript secondhand store today or that a friend of mine named his jackass “Bobby” after the former mayor. They were archenemies. 

I took four things from our ten-minute encounter. Or perhaps, four truths were confirmed.

One, people are desperate to tell you their stories. They cannot wait.

Two, they'll tell a complete stranger the most important thing in their life in the first two minutes.

Three, you can form a complete picture of a stranger in a few minutes. The fictionalized life story of Ben Ainsley (not his name) would write itself.

Four, be there, be interested, and listen.

It’s a minor miracle really, what you can learn and appreciate in ten short minutes.

Take note of Ben’s Jimmy Hendrick’s tee. It’s the one his son is wearing in the photograph.



Blacks Crossing said...

The "close encounters" you have with assorted people provide some of the most interesting blogs. They are accentuated by your great writing, whether in a "strictly the facts" mode or elaborating on the personalities at hand. The fictionalized Ben Ainsley could probably provide massive amounts of material, simply from the photographs you took. Pick one. Choose a story. Go for it. His hands also tell a completely different story than Lenny Foster's, no doubt grittier. "Take my picture. I'm getting married today" is a great book title, perhaps for your portrait portfolio book. Thanks for getting out, embracing the encounters, and including them here!

Steve Immel said...

Thanks Daryl. I'm excited to have more first encounters replete with more or less candid photographs and a revealing story learned in just a few minutes. Looking back I have perhaps four like "Ben's" in which I formed an impression of the stranger and said goodbye.