Last year I photographed a short story in Oklahoma Today about Gerald and Erika Halverstreng, written by Sheila Bright. They are a friendly couple from Germany who, after attending horse shows in Oklahoma for many years, decided to move here from their native land and start ranching, raising horses, and hosting other European visitors to our great state. It seems a lot of people from Europe are interested in our heritage. They love to attend rodeos, horse shows, tour Route 66, visit the Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, attend Indian pow-wow’s, and basically indulge in things Oklahoman. The Halverstreng’s host about 50 visitors per year to their ranch near Pauls Valley and provide guided tours to their visitors. This was a short piece in the magazine and only one picture was used for the story. I had the opportunity to ride horses that day with the Halverstreg’s and grabbed a few photos along the way. They are great ambassadors for Oklahoma.
In 2014 I was assigned to do a portrait of Choctaw Indian stickball players in Durant, Oklahoma. When I got there for the portrait I found out the field they usually play on had been plowed that previous week, getting it ready for the upcoming stickball season. Hence we were limited on where we could take action pictures of the stickball players. I ended up with three players and shot some action photos of them. If you are not familiar with stickball, it is a really old native american sport dating back to well before Columbus “discovered” North America. It basically consisted of two “teams” – usually rival tribes – and the goal was to get a ball to throw a ball with sticks and make it hit the opponent’s goal, which was usually a pole or tree. The playing field could be a hundred feet long or two miles long, and there could be anywhere from five to five hundred players on a team. Not a lot of rules in stickball other than you can’t touch the ball with your hands – you gotta use sticks – and you have to hit the goal with the ball to score a point. Today there are a few more rules – no eye gouging, knives, a few things like that, but the game has pretty much stayed the same for hundreds of years. Stickball has seen a resurgence in popularity among Native American tribes, with games being held all over the southern United States, especially in Oklahoma.
Here are a couple of quick photos from my editorial photo assignment. I wasn’t able to photograph an actual game but this represents how the game is played.
The actual photo that ran in the magazine.
Nathan Gunter and I were traveling across Oklahoma on our story about Highway 3 when we drove through Stonewall, Oklahoma. Not much left in Stonewall. It seems to have been bypassed when the Oklahoma Department of Transportation rebuilt Highway 3 about 1/4 mile out of town. We were on the old part of Highway 3.
One business that is still surviving is an old NAPA/hardware store. Of course Nathan and I whipped in to talk to the folks – can’t pass up an opportunity like that. As you can imagine, we were strangers and got a skeptical glance was we walked in. I never carry a camera when meeting people for the first time – that always comes later after I ask permission to photograph them.
After chatting and telling them about the story we were working on, I knew I had to photograph this elderly gentleman for the story. He had lived in Stonewall most of his life and told us about his daddy driving cattle down main street back in the day. I asked if I could get his photograph. He hemmed and hawed and after some cajoling by me, he grudgingly agreed.
I love this photo. No fancy lighting, no spectacular background, no cool camera tricks. Just a very interesting person with a lot of character to their face. I was told a long time ago by a very good photographer – “You want to take better pictures? Stand in front of better subjects.” In other words, the old newspaperman’s motto of “F16 and be there” still stands true today.
One of my favorite things about editorial photography is getting to meet interesting people. I do a lot of travel stories and invariably I am pulling over my vehicle – usually a motorcycle but sometimes our Jeep or FJ Cruiser, and pulling in to talk to folks. Just ordinary folks. I will be driving down the road, see someone out working in their yard, pull a u-turn and go back and talk to them. After a bit I like to ask if they mind I photograph them. These portrait photos seldom make the cut on my travel stories, but I so enjoy taking them that I continue looking for every opportunity to grab a portrait of people on my travels.
Nathan Gunter, Managing Editor at Oklahoma Today, was driving on our trip together for a story about Highway 3 in Oklahoma. We were south of Shawnee, driving an old, forgotten piece of Highway 3 when we passed this guy out feeding his chickens. “Turn around” I exclaimed, and Nathan, after a week of traveling with me, knew better than to question my choice. He just laughed and back we went. I wish I had taken better notes and could remember this guy’s name, but according to his t-shirt, he is a self proclaimed “Redneck of the Year”. I wouldn’t really call him a redneck. I just call him a fellow Oklahoman, someone I am proud to call a neighbor and now a friend. He was very proud of his chickens and other animals he raised around his home and took Nathan and I on a short tour.
So if you are ever driving with me and I excitedly yell “turn around” just do it and know that you are probably going to meet someone unusual and interesting.
I worked on story for Oklahoma Today a couple of years ago about fly fishing in Oklahoma – Come Fly with Me. I spent a couple of days shooting digital and once the story was done, I grabbed my film cameras and shot a bit of black and white film. I wasn’t sure how it would turn out but I did get a few shots that I liked, including this one. It harkens back to the 50’s fly fishing and the film gives it what I think is a retro, old style authentic look.