Jennifer Trausch: Behind the Scenes, in the South

Here are some of Jennifer Trausch’s personal recollections from her days on location in the South:
“It was the hottest day of our trip and we were quite run down having driven some three thousand miles in the last couple weeks.  The night before my assistant, Kim, and I had worked at a Zydeco dance hall outside of Opelousas, Louisiana.  We had shot late into the night until the dancers had worn themselves out.  We were covered in bug bites from loading the equipment into the truck in the pitch black near railroad tracks we had only heard signs of.  The day before the truck had broken down for the second time. It is hard enough to haul around a 235 pound camera, but having to move it in and out of a broken truck was yet another test of our determination.   We had to get back to New York soon, and were driving northbound in Mississippi when we saw a handwritten sign for a fair and followed it, intrigued.  The fairground was so small that you could walk through it in a couple of minutes.  It was the middle of the afternoon and the air was heavy and the old rides were still.  The location was perfect for our way of shooting; It was small enough that we could negotiate our way around with the camera but big enough that we would have a good selection of subjects to work with.  I immediately gravitated toward the dunking booth; It was a simple box of water with a splintered board to sit on.  Life preservers were hanging on a fence nearby just in case.  I used my digital camera to make notes, circling the booth to find the best vantage point.  One could only imagine who would be sitting up there later.

A few workers arrived and we asked for permission to shoot at the fair that night. We always stand out a little, the camera was hard to hide. Everyone seemed concerned with the way their town would be depicted. There was always a general suspicion of us, two female new york artists, traveling with our giant camera and rugged truck. We told them about ourselves and about the history of the camera hoping to gain their trust. We started to prepare the camera, attaching the lens and loading the rolls of film, unsure whether we were truly welcome.  When we started to lower the camera to the ground on the liftgate, the motor quickly smoked and stopped. The camera was stuck up in the truck and we would not be able to shoot.  Before we could drive away, we were approached by a group of police officers and firefighters who offered to lift the heavy camera down for us. Suddenly in the midst of our trouble, there was a willingness to have us stay.

By now we had now missed the sun.  Our exposures were going to be incredibly long but we hadn’t taken any pictures all day and needed to. From my earlier walk around the grounds I had settled on shooting the dunking booth from behind.  It was getting dark and the spotlights were turned on.  This light focused your attention onto the boys being dunked and obscured the lines of people watching and waiting for them to fall.  The boys took turns in the booth and neither were interested in being photographed or stayed still enough for the exposures. We hung some of the Polaroids to dry on a nearby swingset and a group of girls were crowding around giggling that one of the boys looked cuter than they had ever seen him look.  His dad came by and explained that his son was shy. The boys in the booth continued egging the spectators on. And it is here that I find my quiet moment to shoot, where one of the boys sits alone, shaking from the cold, waiting to fall back in . . .”

Location photographs ©2010 Kimberlee Venable

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