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 .
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 .
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 .
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 .