50 Strangers Project #18

 "I was a smart ass , foul mouthed in my younger days" he said . Although it didn't shock me , it was in such stark contrast to the demeanor Raymond exhibited since we struck up our conversation 15 minutes earlier . He held the Flugelhorn in his left hand covered in a cotton glove . Now viewing the photographs I find it funny that I never gave it one thought to ask why it was covered . Somehow doubting that it is motivated by fashion , I've fallen back on the theory that it must be to stop the sweaty palms that a summer day in Savannah produces with such ease . The mellow sound of Ray's Flugelhorn could be heard throughout the square and one after another passersby dropped signs of their appreciation in his bucket . Interesting that few stopped to listen , apparently just walking through and hearing the songs of Savannah's favorite son songwriter Johnny Mercer was enough to provoke a donation . "Satin Doll" , "That Ole Black Magic" "Come Rain Or Come Shine" my guess would be that half of the people didn't realize what they were hearing "Probably before their time" Ray said . Between songs some listeners would say thanks and express how much they loved the trumpet only to have Ray correct them . I heard him tell one man who stood with his young son's "this is an instrument of love , the trumpet gets you ready for a fight " he then with bare lips mimicked revelry and that melody they play before a horse race . He did add that "there's plenty of trumpet players that I love , Satchmo , Miles Davis and Freddie Hubbard were fantastic" looking down at his horn he concluded " The trumpet's brassy and bright this is just mellow , no one's gonna fight after hearing this" 

      Approaching the middle of this project it has amazed me how after a simple introduction how conversation evolves . Practically every meeting has a moment that is a turning point , a word or phrase that instantly makes a connection . That moment is tangible and if you pay attention you can feel the conversation change . That "Stranger" that I've approached with the idea of photographing them starts to feel more comfortable, a trust is established . Ideas , opinions and humor start flowing . That we have nothing in common could easily be said . Yet I can tell you today that is the most foolish of notions . 

      I laughed a lot with Ray . He shared stories , tales of life , of friends gone by , the mistakes made and of course opinions on what the future may hold . It was the short story of a long road that got us to where we sit today . It must have been a dozen times that he said "y'all followin me now" before continuing . " I could see him now , cigarette hanging out of the side of his mouth"  started his description of an uncle he worked with in the shipyards of New Jersey ." My folks sent me there because I was a destined for trouble . he got me my 1st job . I thought I'd be on easy street with my uncle being the boss" Ray's laughter barely stopped before he continued  "He gave me every dirty job they had , I spent weeks inside the hot bilge of an old ship hauling that shit with a bucket " shaking his head as if he couldn't believe it happened , again he turned directly at me and in a sharp curt voice said  "I quit" then described heading to the bus station , The Port Authority New York city .  "They told me that there wasn't a bus till morning so I'd have to wait . Yew-wee I was pissed off " he proclaimed making eye contact  the entire time "y'all followin me" ?  "I looked across the station and there was my Aunt " She walked straight towards me and said "and just what do you think you're doing ?" He said he talked to her about his situation and how he was too proud to haul "that shit" and he had enough . Now his voice changed for the first time , lower in tone and with a sense of humility he continued  "Then she started to talk about things that I'd never thought about" ............... "y'all folowin me"? Ray described her lecture , she talked about hard work and effort , about how my uncle didn't want me to appear privileged that's why he gave me the dirtiest jobs . "Y'all followin me"?  She talked and talked then she said "Your uncle was just trying to give you a chance to prove you are a man" . There wasn't another Y'all followin me , instead he put his horn to his mouth and started playing the Gershwin classic "They Can't Take That Away From Me" He played the first few bars on the Flugelhorn but then with emphasis Ray sang the chorus loudly "No You Can't Take That Away From Me"  

     Raymond , I'm Bob Gala Photographer and it was truly my pleasure to meet you today . 


50 Strangers Project #17

Finding Marion is certainly not the hardest of tasks . Savannah has been his home for what I'd have to guess is 70 years or so . These days you'll find him in one of the Squares that this city was built around . Listen for the simple melodies that his flute plays and follow the sound , there you'll find Marion . Sitting on a bench in the shade , tip can in front ready to handle the hoped for donations  , He also has a music stand but I've yet to see any sheet music there it sits empty , a fantastic prop giving himself a more refined musical look . I could only imagine Marion in his younger days , he had to be the "coolest of cats" . Even today he sports sunglasses with rhinestones and those bright orange pants , he wears the same hat and it's beginning to show the wear the years have taken . You'll have to look close to notice these things because what immediately takes your eye is that white beard and when I say white I'm not talking some shade of gray , It's brilliantly white . So much so that he's been difficult to photograph , that brilliant white contrasting his dark skin is a transition that no camera can make .  

       On the bench next to him always sits a bread bag with food for the birds and squirrels as well a white bread sandwich for himself and some water to wash it down . He's a soft spoken but not shy , a gentleman in the truest sense . When I asked " live in Savannah your whole life ?" He replied quietly " Yup , been here the whole time" . The "whole time" got my mind going and I followed with "so you grew up here huh ? " his answer didn't change " Yup , been here the whole time" . " Was raised just a few blocks from here " . Trying to get information without seeming nosy at best or like a police interrogation at the worst . I wanted a story of the old south , of being a black man in Georgia in the 50's , of the changes that he had seen .......or perhaps hadn't ? Maybe not being as subtle as I would have hoped I asked " Marion , what was it like to grow up a black kid here ? " He turned and looked at me . My first thought was that I had offended him . He looked upward as if he was trying to summon his memory , he stayed in that position long enough that my head and eyes followed , but all I saw was the spanish moss and the sky . Marion saw something entirely different , " I was about 8 and I was playing with my friend Sam , we were up on Broughton" his speech slowed and I could tell he choose his words carefully " Ah heck we were just kids havin fun , then I turned and saw my mama running towards me and she had that look as if I was goin to get a whoopin " Even now his eyes got big , " You get home now " was all she said and then he described how she grabbed him  by the back of his shirt . " I was barely able to keep up , I'd be fallin down but she didn't stop , dragging me til I could get back on my feet . I just couldn't figure out what I had done . She cut through the neighbors yard and I didn't understand why" He paused , shook his head as he relived the memory , then he went on  "My oh my when we finally got to the front door she flung it open and threw me in " I looked up at her and asked Mama "what I do ?" She just pulled the curtain aside and pointed . "Thats when I saw them for the first time The Klan was marching , they were turning the corner"

    I sat enthralled by the tale happy to hear it , this is what I wanted . There was however a bit of sadness . Sensing that I reopened an old wound . The look on his face was all I needed to tell it was the truth , never a doubt .  We all have stories , some more dramatic than others . I don't think  there is anyone that doesn't have a least one of these , a life changer . A moment or experience that forever changed the way you looked at the world . I could tell by looking at him that this moment was one of those for Marion , the innocence of childhood gone .  Mr. Marion May you've been terrific , this encounter more than I had hoped for . May I introduce myself again , I'm Bob Gala photographer and Sir it was my pleasure to meet you today .

50 Strangers Project #16

Having never been here before it was odd that I got the feeling that there should be more people here .  Thunder rumbled somewhere in the distance , clouds moved quickly above the branches of the live oaks . Limbs curve and twist in a beautiful but somehow unnatural way , reaching like arms appearing longer than the Oaks are high . Spanish moss hangs and moves back and forth slowly , hanging like tinsel on a Christmas tree . 

   Looking around I'm sure that the impending weather has something to do with the quietness of the park . Surveying the people I don't see the families with babies being pushed in those all terrain buggies that are so popular . The famous fountain sprays but not a one is posing in front of it . The thunder rumbles again . We wander searching for that opportunity to take our photographs . Scattered about , almost as if the benches were assigned , men sit . The spacing almost uncanny , no two are close enough to talk , no social circles , no clicks they sit alone or with one other person at most .These are the people that for a few moments have a place to be . I'm certain they wonder which will come first the rain or the darkness , knowing either will force a move from the serenity of their benches . It's now apparent that these men have either no better place to go or sadly and simply , no place to go at all .  

    How he came upon us so quickly I'm not certain . Seemingly out of nowhere we heard "hey how ya'll doin today" . He flashed a big smile and with that I responded " Just fine , what are you up to ?" . It was that simple to get this conversation started . We listened to Frank talk about good times and bad , unfortunately the bad being the most recent . "Got laid off and I can't find no work" . Clean and well groomed he didn't appear to be homeless or lacking of life's necessities , Frank was a happy guy . We talked , took a few shots and time passed quickly . This project is starting to amaze even myself as we meet these people . Coming in all shapes and sizes colors and creeds , their opinions differ as much as their bank accounts . They're expressive and perhaps the only thing they have in common in life is that they were each stopped by me , this photographer who asked to take their pictures .  I'm excited to meet , talk and photograph more but the thunder rumbles again . So for this day and for these photos I'll just say Thanks Frank . I'm Bob Gala photographer and it was a pleasure to meet you .


50 Strangers #14 & #15

Navigating the ballast stones while walking Savannah's River Street is a chore at it's very best . Different sizes and shapes , rounded as if they were taken from some fast moving river where cold water rushed over them for millions of years . Call them cobbles and the locals will quickly correct you . These came from deep in the bellies of the old sailing ships that made Savannah their port of call . Using the weight of these stones captains were able to balance the great sailing vessels until they could fill their holds with more precious cargo . Discarded on arrival , what better way to use them but to line the street with them , instantly turning small sections of what had to be sty like mud holes into hard manageable treading .

     Certainly the definition of manageable has changed with the times and everyday women risk the danger . An embarrassing fall or worse yet a sprained or broken ankle trying to negotiate these slippery stones in those beautifully fashionable heels that the girls so love . Practicality outdated and unfashionable has yielded to vanity . But Dang we will look good doin it . 

       No more attractive couple has come our way than Margie and Gregory . Dressed so smartly , pressed and lookin good . Politely they tried to avoid being photographed each going in different directions with both their bodies and their decision . Margie swatted at the sand gnats which can swarm even the hardiest of outdoor types . Some people are sweeter than others some say , must be true because I didn't feel a one . Swatting and walking with bended ankles she obliged our request for a photo . It was the quickest of shoots . I said "thank you" to them and up the stairway they went . It was too short but as always I was grateful for them taking the time . , I'm Bob Gala photographer and it was my pleasure to meet you today . 


50 Strangers #13

It's back to Savannah for another 50 Strangers shoot . Forsyth Park , Not unlike any urban oasis it's filled with dog walkers , lovers strolling , a few of the benches occupied by men apparently with no place better to go . The promenade wide beautifully lined with the Oaks and Spanish Moss which long ago became synonymous with this city .  

      DeeDee and I choose to sit on a bench along the main entrance to get a feel for the place , scout possible backgrounds and angles and of course look for those strangers we hope to photograph . Perhaps a moment of relaxation , perhaps taking time to summon the courage to start our search and recruitment , we sat . People walked by in groups , some obviously families . Others were just as obviously only friends , peers you could easily say . Doning the apparel appropriate for their group they came to stroll , perhaps snap a few Iphone shots near the famous fountain and certainly watch us as we watched them .

      I was standing looking over our prospects and the location when I could hear the sound of wheels on the walkway . Turning just in time to see a young man flip his skateboard . You know the way those skaters do . Pulled it up under his arm and then look at me and caught me by a bit of surprise when he said "hey , what's going on " . This the fifth week at this and except for those looking to beg a few bucks he was perhaps the first to approach us with a greeting and friendly hello . I started with "well actually" and then went into the explanation of the 50 Strangers Project . He was excited about his new skateboard "made it myself , taking it for the first ride" . Canadian Maple was not the only thing we heard from A.J about this board . A.J talked with pride of it's flex and performance . We listened with attentiveness to his passionate description . Yet realizing this was stuff that only a real skater could truly understand . I do know this , if a jaunt on this board was as exciting as his enthusiasm was sincere , it was one bitchin ride .  a great guy our conversation covered a broad spectrum from his arts education to him getting shot in the leg . In his words "by mistake by my crazy redneck uncle" . Our conversation rambled and changed topics quickly , it really was terrific . A.J , thanks for taking part in my project , I'm Bob Gala photographer and it was my pleasure to meet you on this day .