Writing With Words and Light
Today’s Flyover People column as seen in The Emporia Gazette:
WRITING WITH WORDS AND LIGHT
“We traded two-and-a-half million people for a town without a blinking light, which is very, very nice,” Tom Parker said.
Tom Parker and his wife, Lori, moved from Denver to Blue Rapids 11 years ago. They were anxious to get out of Denver, Lori had relatives in Kansas, and so they landed in Marshall County.
Recently, Tom gave a photography presentation to the Emporia Camera Club at the group’s annual meeting. He showed images and talked about his artistic process.
I don’t remember how I found Tom’s blog, “Dispatches from Kansas,” but we became acquainted online perhaps five years ago, and then I met him at a book-signing at Town Crier. Dave and I have visited with Tom and Lori several times since then.
Tom is a columnist and a reporter/photographer for the Washington County News. I was drawn to Tom’s columns because his writing makes me think – and because it makes me envious. His content, often wrapped in shadows and vulnerability, is rich and deep, and the way he puts words together just dazzles me.
After he lost one of his side jobs in March, he penned a column, “The Nature of Doors.” Tom wrote: “Maybe Kansas has rubbed off on me, all that ad astra shrugging off per aspera as if it were of no consequence, merely a bump in the highway of life or a minor hurdle to be overcome. I used to think it was a spit-in-the-face-of-adversity kind of attitude but I’ve come to reconsider it more pragmatically. The phrase itself is a masterpiece of brevity without a shred of maudlin sentimentality, self-pity or irrational expectation. There will be difficulties, it stresses, but what matters are the stars.”
He has written about weighty topics such depression, nightmares, and the suicide of a stranger. I feel like I’m on the scene when I read lines like “the soft sound of water sluicing over a dam.” Tom reveals thoughts and emotions with clear honesty. In doing so, he tells our individual and our collective stories, and connects with the reader at a gut level.
The title of Tom’s presentation at the camera club event was called “Writing the Story with Words and Light.”
“Since I’m working for the newspaper and since I’ve been doing more digital photography, I’ve kind of tried to blend them together,” Tom said. “I think photography is powerful; it tells the story by itself. And writing tells the story in a different way. When you combine the two right, there’s a power and magic there that’s just really something else.”
About five years ago, he began work on a newspaper series, “The Ruins of Washington County,” which caused him to focus more on photography.
Tom said, “My editor has me roaming the back roads of Washington County. There are 900 miles of back roads and I photograph old barns, old buildings, old one-room schools, as a way of documenting them while they’re still there.”
“And so it’s really kind of enlarged my thinking, rural-wise, ‘cause I’m from the city, and it’s also made me really think about what makes a good image.”
He spoke of capturing the decisive moment and showed a picture he took when working on a story about St. Bridget’s Church near the Nebraska border. He was in the balcony and a woman came up with her small daughter. The woman began ringing the church bell and the little girl kept looking at Tom. Finally, the girl turned to watch her mother ring the bell, and that’s the moment Tom snapped a story-telling photograph.
Tom also showed images from a personal undertaking, his Winter Solstice Project. For the last 51 days of autumn 2009, he challenged himself to take one really good photograph each day. “Every day at least one photo. Every photo a wordless story. Every photo square.”
The square shape forced him to compose photographs in a new way. “You want the least amount of elements in that frame, but every element has to count.”
Nothing escaped Tom’s eye for this project. He photographed birds, grain elevators, a neighbor’s grill, chairs, shadows. “You can’t go wrong with shadows,” he said.
It’s been rewarding to know Tom and to follow his blog. I’ve found it fascinating to watch another person evolve, deepen over time, as he tells the story, his story, our story, using only words and light.
Copyright 2011 ~ Cheryl Unruh