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By Joseph Dempsey Ignored

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Happenstance, if you will permit it to befall you when the time is right, will get you some otherwise unobtainable opportunities for images (and experiences) otherwise not available.

I had pulled my pickup bestraddle a roadside ditch in Stone County, Arkansas, — a not too shabby ditch . . . a full-grown Rottweiler could have walked under the truck untouched by metal — crawled into the bed, and had long glass focused on a barn in the distance.

As I was snapping away, I noticed a couple of local residents tooling by, also in a pickup. They were giving me the eye something fierce. To some this might be a cause for alarm, but only if you are not familiar with your environs. These good ol' boys had spotted another good ol' boy (their senior by a long shot) taking pictures of a barn. "I wunder what th' hail that ol boy's doin?'' one of them probably quipped, followed by a rejoinder along the lines of, "Well you ignert thang he ain't makin' ice cream with that camera."

Curiosty getting the best of them, and presuming a gray-bearded photographer was at best a minimal threat, they pulled in behind me and asked in I was a real estate agent.

Seems the rest of the world has discovered the peaceful beauty of Stone County, and now area "rillaters" are doing well. (Which could be a precursor of the demise of said peaceful beauty). I told 'em, "Naw I'm a photographer and that barn over there looked like it needed shot."

Digesting that tidbit of information with warp speed, they came forth with intelligence on another barn.  ". . . It's Foster's barn, the biggest one left standing in the county," they reported. My eyes lit up like a pinball machine that just hit B O N U S. As I licked my chops they came forth with directions to Foster's barn.

The directions were good. As I pulled up to the barn, I noticed a small sawmill on the premises. It was manned by four hard working Stone County stalwarts. I approached the one who seemed to hold sway over the other three and asked if he had any objection to me parking my truck on their premises while I photographed the barn.

Permission came rapidly, together with directions that would allow me better access to the structure than my present perspective from the sawmill. Turns out, the man giving directions was Mr. Foster, owner of the sawmill and the barn. He was more than happy to let my lens suck up a bit of light in the direction of his barn.

His dad built the barn, as I recall him telling me, in 1917 or there about. Mr. Foster said the termites had just about "taken the thing over." With a look or regret he predicted a short remaining life for the magnificent structure.

I proceeded to shoot 75 or so exposures. As I left the premises, I admired his world-class garden, sporting okra, tomatoes, peas, corn and a plethora of other healthy, thriving veggies. Since Mr. Foster also had a nice-sized herd of cattle close by, the source of this lush vegetative growth was not a mystery.

By this time, my planned route through Stone County that day was a lost cause. Doing a quick map reconnaissance, I found the quickest route to get me back to the flatlands. The road started paved, and as predicted by the map, turned to gravel about halfway to the next target thoroughfare. Not a bad thing and to be expected on a trip of this nature. There was one unexpected benefit. The gravel jarred my cell phone cradle speaker-phone back to life.

As I sped down the road, I was taken aback by a steel-wheeled D-model John Deere tractor with a handsome coat of rust. Nearly spinning the truck sideways as I kicked in the retro-rockets, I managed to pull close to the tractor and started some serious Nikoning in its general direction.

As I was doing my trick, two pickups pulled up. Turns out one was piloted by the owner of the property and the tractor, and the other by his son. After a short interrogation, all parties decided the photographic operations were benign and we began to exchange friendly words. I left about thirty minutes later with a request for prints.

But wait. There's more. A few miles later, the epiphany struck again with vivacity. An ancient, crumbling, but eminently photographable residence presented itself. The truck and I did a repeat performance of the spin-and-stop routine. The owner's dogs came out, gave me a good sniffing, determined that I was of good character, and invited me to converse with the master of the grounds, who turned out to be a fine regaler of tales.

I shot the building and proceeded to shoot another later that day ... which, by the way, is the first photo in our Photo of the Week feature.

This story could go on a bit further, but we have reached the prosaic version of a seven-fold amen. As the sun set during my return to the flat lands, I had pause to ruminate on the day's events. I had carefully planned a photographic exploration for the day. With more than a modicum experience in Stone County, I was convinced the strategy I had mapped out was sound and would result in some good images.

The wheels started coming off the plan as I exited Mountain View and saw a "likely looking gravel road," previously unexplored by me. It was a stroke of good fortune. Not being able to resist the temptation, I found images I hadn't imagined from that moment forward. I was about to return to plan A, when the guys decided to join me in the ditch. From that moment on, plan B started to bear fruit.

The message here is that our grandiose plans may not be so grandiose after all. And further, that good luck occurs when you are prepared to shed pre-conceived ideas and let fortuitous occurrences blossom. Hell, I'd rather be lucky than good any day of the week.

N O T E :  
Nikon D200 / Nikon 35-70 zoom / processed with Photoshop CS3 and Photomatics HDR.

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