My series, Morning Bus, portraits of children waiting for the morning bus in our small semi-rural town in Northeastern Connecticut, is motivated by the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, about an hour from my home. My own daughter, enrolled in first grade at our local elementary school at the time, was the same age as the victims when the shooting occurred in December 2012. Disturbed by the shooting but also the subsequent gun control debate that ensued in the aftermath, I connected the innocence of our local children waiting for the morning bus with the vulnerability and powerlessness I felt for the victims, the parents of the victims, my own daughters and indeed for my wife and myself as parents and citizens. Our modern day recurring mass shootings have brought into stark relief that moment of “see you later” or “bye-bye” when we step out to go to school or to the movies assuming that we really will see each other later.
As my daughter and I go our separate ways each morning, I see her with her pink and purple sparkly backpack, hairclips and boots. She goes to school, and I go to work. For me to be able to part ways with her, I have to somehow believe, in spite of what I read in the morning paper, that things are going to be fine. And like so many other parents, I am able to do this and even lose myself in my work during the day, and almost forget about her. Almost.
There is a whole lifetime of childhood experience that happens between 9 am and 3 pm that a parent does not see. A lifetime that begins at the end of our driveway. That spot where the school bus stops is a membrane between home and the rest of the world. Children and teenagers stand out there vulnerable, brave, trusting that they are safe. Trusting that we cherish life itself.
In 2008, with the help of a Guggenheim Fellowship, I returned to my hometown of Nashville, Tennessee, in search of something. Fueled with memories of the past, I turned my lens on the only Nashville I had available to me, the present day city. As I began photographing, I began to see parts of myself in the pictures, and to reconsider the meaning of home.
I had happily left Nashville for New York 20 years before. My family had moved within Nashville 17 times by the time I was 19. I also grew up surrounded by musicians and music, but knew early on that photography was my medium, an alternate kind of songwriting, really. Just as an album tells a larger story held together by its individual songs, each photograph tells its story to structure the series.
My parents were classical musicians in the 1960’s, members of the Nashville Symphony. My mother played flute, my father the French horn. They met in the symphony, fell in love and got married. Soon after my brother and I were born. On Sundays, as a young family we would have dinner at my grandparents’ house.
The day after Christmas 1968 my grandfather, Edwin F. Tewksbury, died on the operating table. The doctors were not able to get his heart beating again during open heart surgery. I was one year old.
My grandfather was a Methodist minister. He had come to Nashville with my grandmother and mother from Bangor, Maine 20 years earlier, on Thanksgiving Day 1949 to start a new job at the Methodist board there. They told my 10 year old mother that they were leaving only a few days before.
The songs I came to write about Nashville echo this series of measured displacements. They are ones of leaving and coming home again to a place that maybe never was home, of an attempt to take root in a city my family was only ever passing through.
These portraits, culled from magazine assignments, are individuals that have, one way or another, survived, saved lives, inspired and displayed extraordinary human achievement. Ben Bostic and Stephen Lis survived crash landing in the Hudson River on Flight 1549, Georgia Davis Lost 202 lbs in 9 months, Amy Moore made a complete recovery after having no pulse for 20 minutes and Lt. Brian Murphy, the first responder to a mass shooting, survived being shot 15 times. All of these individuals have in common that they were going about their everyday lives when, one day, everything changed. We can learn from them that milliseconds matter and that life is precious.
I have been photographing polling places and voters since 2004, (the year Bush defeated Kerry). That year, Esquire magazine hired me to photograph polling places and voters for a feature on the election. I loved the pictures and was forever changed by the experience of meeting and talking to the poll workers whom, I had never really spoken to, I must confess, other than to give them my name and address. I have photographed most of the elections since in New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio.
It hit me the first time I photographed polling stations that this is what an American democracy looks like: a clerical exercise of shuffling papers and bean counting–not overturned cars in the street or mobs throwing Molotov cocktails. The tallying of 121,745,725 votes cast in the days after Nov 6, 2012, comes down to the service of ordinary citizens who take an oath not to interfere with the process and are paid less than $200 for the day.
Meanwhile, from the voter’s perspective, regardless of what we think about our options for who we can elect or whether we believe any great change will take place, we have either retained or overthrown our government by casting one vote. The evolution of our voting laws has been a long 200 year process to finally include everyone (except convicted felons and minors). My pictures are a window into what that process looks like up close.
A friend once told me, “If you stand in New York for five minutes, you’ve seen it change”. Before September 11th, iPhones and Facebook there was the world of Gotham. These photographs, originally shot on the streets of New York City in 1997 as feature photographs for the “front of the book” section of New York Magazine (from which this series gets it’s name), are a time capsule of 1990’s street life. Focusing on simple, everyday moments, like urban fairy tales, one sees longing, innocence and a human desire to live and be together. Shot on black and white film, using a large format 8”x10” camera, these images, even then, seemed like dated moments of a time gone by, yet they were not. The closest we get to time travel is seeing our present moment as the past and the past as the present.