It was late March 2016 when I received a request from Mrs. Bettye Davis, Lou Walker Senior Center's Director, to assist the center with a photo exhibit, highlighting their 10th anniversary. At the time, the request seemed fairly straightforward. The job was to create a photographic exhibit of approximately 35 seniors who have been part of the center since inception. My immediate thought was to make this a class project and do environmental portraits of the seniors in and around the center. Perhaps we could capture the seniors experiencing the center in their preferred environment—the gardens or in the classrooms—where they are involved in either arts and crafts, dance routines, physical fitness activities, or technology development and skills enhancements. This would entail using my photography students to assist me in the photographic capture of the seniors in these activities. The goal being to capture a “flattering likeness” of the subject, which is the epitome of what a good portrait should depict.

The initial project plan called for two hour photo sessions on Friday afternoons, as part of our regular weekly hands-on workshop sessions. The plan was to photograph 8-10 seniors each week for approximately 4 weeks. As the call for participation in the early sessions went out, word spread that we were photographing 10 year alumni of the center and the number of seniors qualifying rose very quickly from 35 to 135. Consequently, the plan also had to dramatically change. What was planned as a two hour per week, 4 week project turned into an all-consuming 8 weeks with 3-5 hour sessions and makeup sessions, if needed. Not to mention, the scheduling challenges because these seniors were quite busy. Many were traveling and not available during the scheduled shoot times, but no one wanted to be left out of this historic event. Over the course of several weeks, we managed to photograph the majority of seniors who qualified.

Weekly sessions were scheduled in a small area on the Victory Room stage, behind the curtain. This way, we could ensure some privacy and a degree of control. The Victory Room is a large auditorium, where the bulk of the senior population gather daily to have lunch, practice dance lessons, meditate or just to play cards and socialize. The environment is shared, sociable and a hub of activity almost daily. Uniquely, on Friday afternoons, Percy Sanders, a Lou Walker senior and self-proclaimed maestro of music, showed up to play “old school” music for those so inclined to dance. The tunes he played were very instrumental in allowing us to capture the moments that we did.

Each senior we photographed was asked to show up 15-20 minutes prior to their appointment time to fill out a brief questionnaire and sign a model’s release. The senior was met by a greeter, interviewed and escorted to the studio area. Sometimes, this meant the senior had to wait in the green room until they could be photographed. This “meet and greet” process, which was handled by the photography class members and led by Ret Seymour, Cynthia McCoy and Emma Blount, worked perfectly. Backstage with me or behind the Victory Room stage curtain was Sharon Dowdell, who was acting as my assistant and candid shooters, Joe Morris and James Hobby. It took this team executing flawlessly to produce the outstanding results we attained.

Each senior escorted to the area to be photographed was handed off to me, after receiving a brief orientation of the set by Sharon. My role, in the moments leading up to the individual digital capture, was to put the client at ease, establish rapport and ultimately produce a “flattering likeness of the subject.”

Posing the seniors was like pouring cold molasses from a frozen jar. Things weren’t going very well. My standard and subtle direction, which I had used so successfully in the past, such as, chin up, tilt to your left, eyes follow me, etc., fell on deaf ears. I discovered very early in the capture process that I had to make a personal connection with the subject, if this was going to be in any way successful. I shifted my approach and began asking them about their hobbies, avocations or adventures. And as soon as I did, the molasses began to flow like olive oil from a Mason jar. It was magical.

We jumped. We danced. We sang. We played in “the dirt” of our flower gardens. We saluted our commanding officers. We marched and paraded with the band. We did our best fraternity walks. We played tennis, and golfed. We fished the depths of the oceans. We ministered to the homeless, we preached sermons and waved to our courts. The magic never stopped. Over 135 images and never a dull moment. The simple, though sometimes elusive task of capturing a “flattering likeness” turned into a magical carpet ride. We revealed ourselves to each other. And the images were wonderful.

The exhibit opened June 3, 2016 at the Lou Walker Senior Center in DeKalb County. It was scheduled to run a week—it was on display for 3 months. And due to the limited exhibit space, which could only feature 38 of the 135 images captured, this book displays the entire exhibit.

The original images displayed were framed and formatted to fit a 1:1 aspect ratio. The prints were 12”x12,”with a simple white 2 inch mat and a black 20x20 inch frame with a small beveled inside edge. The images presented here have been slightly reformatted to accommodate the style of this book. Nonetheless, the magic of the moments captured prevail.

The image capture process was handled using a Nikon D700, and a Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 lens. Exif data from the camera reads: ISO 100, f/8, 1/200s. Set lighting was provided by a Norman P1250D Studio Strobe Power Pack, a single LH2000 strobe head, a 36 inch umbrella and two silver reflectors. All images were processed using Adobe Lightroom CC 2016.

Lastly, since graduating from the Art Institute of Atlanta I have continually sought to enhance my photographic skills through travel, embracing other cultures, and continually looking for additional educational opportunities that are focused on personal development. The advanced digital photography classes I teach at the Lou Walker Senior Center also allows me to continue my education. My students challenge me and require that I continually sharpen my photographic skills.

My students, of which I am very proud, have produced over 16 photographic exhibits to date and continue to give back to the communities they serve via volunteer support at various venues across the metropolitan Atlanta area. They compete annually in the Atlanta Celebrates Photography Month and have won numerous awards through their participation.

It is my most sincere desire that as you journey through these images, that you will enjoy them as  much as we enjoyed producing them. . . bgs.

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