Every Monday we ask our audience to share their stories with us on instagram. We would love for you to join us and share what each photo says to you.
Photo Credit: Meredith Winn
Story Credit: Tommy Wallace
Times had been hard in the little family shop on 9th street in South Philly. No one seemed to appreciate the deep resonating tones of the tubas his brother refurbished anymore. That meant the family was cutting corners any way they could. So on an unusually hot night in September the decision had been made. Roberto, as the oldest, knew he would be the one to take the old renovated bus behind the shop, load it with all the big horns it could hold and travel from town to town, peddling his instruments. Taking I-95 all the way to Miami he had stopped here and there in big cities and small towns and was now on the way back home. He had learned some things while out on the road: eat more than you can at cheap buffets, be careful who you trust, you can take free showers at public health centers, and you should never take family for granted. Now it was almost Christmas and he had one tuba left. It would be a hard one for him to sell. He was only about 200 miles from home and in Fredericksburg, Va. Open for business for only an hour, it began to snow. He was glad and began to smile, because he took it as a sign to keep the last tuba. This horn was the one he had played growing up as a boy and as a most precious gift, it would now be handed down to his son, Roberto, Jr.
Photo Credit: Joe Montoya
Story Credit: Kelly Rogers
After many years of being a slave to the masses, Santa packs it in and moves to SoCal. After many failed attempts at trying to make friends with the local surfers he decides to pack up his pet crab and head north.
Photo credit: Francesco
Story credit: Susan Peck
Franco’s back was hurting worse than usual today. Stress, for certain, but today his back was complaining even before Franco climbed the 4 flights of stairs to the room that had been his office, his place of work for the past 4 decades. The empty box in his hand already felt weighted by the books, papers and assorted detritus he was about to fill it with. His boss, a man young enough to be Franco’s son’s son, had just told him to clear it all out – today. A grown man’s entire career, reduced to a jumble of piles of files. Jumbled like Franco’s feelings, his thoughts, and in ruins like his life. “How did I get here?” he asked himself, as he reached the bottom of the stairway that had a path worn down by 40 years of his own footfalls.
Photo credit: Igor C.
Story credit: @grandreopening
When Ellsworth drifted off mid sentence, Bill and the fellas didn’t really notice, Ellsworth had a habit of it. Sometimes he’d stop gnawing on his customary bologna and mustard sandwich part way through a bite, the crust left to bob on his lip like a limp, over-chewed stoogie. Bill knew one day a seagull would swoop down and steal the damn crust before Ell ever got back to chomping. Goddamn, Bill yearned for the day. He was half tempted to bait the sidewalk just to get those birds worked up before Ol’ Ellsworth even opened his lunch pail. Today it wasn’t a slipping of well-worn mental gears that commanded the pause, Ellsworth was grinning like a goddamn Cheshire cat, eyes twinkling like daytime fireworks. Bill followed his gaze, soon the other fellas did too. Across the street in front of Maelene’s Hairport Mrs. Cheryl Tompkins stood at the curb, head tipped back shaking out her freshly blessed curls, her back arched back as it was, her majestic chest was displayed boldly up to heaven itself. It was common knowledge in at least a three county radius that Mrs. Cheryl Tomkins hadn’t worn a bra since 1971. It was equally well understood that were she to live to 127 her otherworldly large, firm breasts would likely never need one.
Photo credit: Veronica Hassell
Story credit: Ariana Trinneer
She paused for a second thinking of all she would leave behind … Knowing that the minute she stepped out the door, everything would change ….
Momdom. That’s where I live, where I hang out in yoga pants and a ya’ll sweatshirt. I am the queen of the kitchen, the laundry wench, the seamstress, and the schoolmarm. I am the queen of my own castle, but man, most days it looks more like a hoarder’s house with toys in every corner and mail strewn across the floor. Most moms can understand the multiple roles I play because they also have many more roles than any human should. When asked to write about what my day looks like, I decided, instead of boring you with my days, I would entice you with my nights. Sounds exotic, no? Keep your pants on. It isn’t. My nights look like getting up every three hours with my youngest son and literally wrestling my older child into bed each night. I am simultaneously the comforter and the disciplinarian.
I read a lot of self-help books. It is actually slightly addicting to invite these strangers into your head and life to dissect you with their words and charts. From early on with my youngest, I read to be in-tune to his needs, because he had a touchy personality, among other variances. I doubt you have met a 6 month old that can make grown ups mad, but Liam could. He refused to smile at strangers, or coo, or really do anything other than deadpan stare at them. It was actually pretty funny. Though, I was usually the only one laughing. Following the advice from a few different books over the last three years has led me to the belief that unless you have that perfect child all the authors list first in their charts, you are just screwed. I was screwed. My kid didn’t eat, didn’t sleep, wasn’t friendly, and could scale refrigerator shelves at 9 months. Oh, the shame of it all. Fast forward two and a half years: he is at least friendly now. He still doesn’t eat or sleep well but, hey, I will take one out of three. The odds are at least looking up and I don’t think he is an old dog yet. I still remember driving to my in-laws and listening to a pediatric doctor on the radio. She spoke directly into my heart when she said that some parents would just be happy they got their children in bed without stitches each night. She also said if you were one of those parents, good job. I sat there savoring the affirmation that my job, my only job, was to get my kid through the day in one piece. Her advice has stayed burrowed in my heart for almost two years.
Recently, he has started having night terrors. Night terrors are baby nightmares which, you, as the parent, can do nothing about until they wake themselves up. It is the most heartbreaking thing to endure. Imagine, you are sitting beside your wailing child and they literally do not register your presence. They are panicked and crying and you can just sit there. You are totally helpless. The one thing you have always had, if nothing else, was the calming presence of just being momma. What do you do when that doesn’t help?
The funny part is — and really it isn’t funny — I feel totally helpless most of the time with my kids. Both are at different ages and stages and I find myself more and more helpless to deal with what they bring to the table. I guess as a parent we feel that way so much of the time. It is all a balancing act. How hard do I push? Am I supportive enough? I find myself saying more and more, ‘I just don’t know’. That razor’s edge I feel poised on for different reason with the boys is exhausting. It is a different kind of exhaustion than the sleepless nights. I am almost used to those, and have found I am a high-functioning zombie most days.
I have decided that raising children is a lot like a series of night terrors. You have 10 hours with them a day (until they go to school) to be loving and compassionate. Then darkness falls, and the terrors come, and all the hugs and kisses and encouragement don’t matter for those few minutes. I view sending my kids into the world as a sort of protracted night terror. I can only wait until they wake up from their selfishness or rebellion to comfort them. I can pour myself into both of them but there are times they are just on their own. I can’t be there to push or encourage, that’s not my role. I have to trust that they will wake up and turn to me. It is funny how comforting it is to me to equate my older son’s bumps and wrinkles to night terrors. I can put a name to it. It is no longer floating anxiety. It has a name and a function and my role is clearly spelled out. I am to wait patiently until they wake up. I am to sit quietly in the dark, with my heart hurting, until they turn their eyes to me for help.
I can do that.
I can wait.
Captain and the Kid written by Cally and Grandreopening
The following is a true story, only the names have been changed to protect the guilty. It’s a story about a girl and a boy on the subway, right and wrong, life and death. Actually that’s not entirely true; this is just a very short story about Captain (C) and the Kid (K).
(K): Four schools in four semesters. It’s not a record; we set that in grade school; 3rd through 4th grade. To be specific, Ms. Elwood, Mrs. Derringer, Mr. Dicks, Mr. Raji, Mrs. Bergdorf, Ms. Gutierrez, and I think there was one more with a Spanish-sounding name, and I’m pretty sure she was really nice to me but I honestly can’t remember.
But this is now, that was when. When there was a reason. There is always a reason, always some never-seen emergency. Ma says I’ll make new friends, like the ones I made at the last school, at the last “Buy-the-Week” Inn which she insisted we call the ‘apartment’. It was nothing but another shithole motel and Ma will never understand the only friend I have is Tiger. Tiger is black and white and ugly, just like me but he’s the only friend I’ve really every had.
(C): Captain’s Log, Star Date 68557.5. It’s been one a hell of a night. I’ve been walking for five hours in the horrible cold and strange frozen precipitation, and still no sign of Lieutenant Cox. Never hire a man for your communications officer; they refuse instruction and ignore directions. Neither the tricorder nor the communicator is functioning property, apparently disallowing our return to the ship. I should never have let him out of my sight, never mind the novelty of alien porn. I’ve taken temporary refuge in an arcane transportation system that appears to simply crawl around in circles on strange metal tracks attracting what I deem their plebian citizens. Again, Cox dropped the ball on the civilization research. We were supposed to be observing signs of mating and/or fertility, but all I’ve actually seen is this ugly ass dog dry humping on one out of every five beings entering the car. Seems random, yet somehow very focused and specific (insert bookmark here for further review). I’m beginning to feel like the ship’s transporter isn’t even functioning or someone surely would’ve beamed me out of this shithole, Cox or no Cox.
I will now attempt to coerce one of the natives to aid me in a physical respite (primarily sleep and nourishment) outside of this rolling tin can. Captain out.
(K): I’m on my way the “Diss”, that’s what everyone calls D.E.H.S.; Who ever heard of a ghetto high school being named after Dwight D. Eisenhower? I take Tiger because Roy in maintenance lets him hang around his shop in the boiler room. I don’t trust my Ma and the folks she has over; not that they would hurt him on purpose, though a few that might, no, most are cool, they’d likely just get drunk then something dumb would happen to him.
This ride sucks. It’s a two-train jump that starts early, and in this neighborhood the early trains still tend to smell like puke. Sometimes all the bangers’ are still coming home drunk and mean; god they suck. Its been pretty mellow lately, which is nice. This morning it’s strangely empty except for this weird-ass woman behind me. An empty car and she’s been leaning on the door murmuring under her breath. She keeps looking around all twitchy, it’s like she’s looking at everything around here for the very first time. Fricking weird.
(C): “Pssst, hey kid.” Kid looks up at me like I’m some kind of freak. “Hey, I need help and I’ve got barter material. No I can’t show you here but take me to your place and maybe we can strike a deal.” I wasn’t too sure whether this was a good idea, especially now that I can see the look of stoic, yet frightened indignity plastered across his face like a half-assimilated Borg. Kid turns around, clearly lost in thoughts that might include jumping up and racing away or pissing his pants and deflating into a ball of liquid alien goo (not pretty−I’ve seen it before). The dog just stares at me, lower jaw jutting out, slow trickle of saliva shining on its slightly trembling lip. All of a sudden the dog emits a low, yet surprisingly menacing growl, and leaps from Kid’s lap, through the near-empty train, just as the train slows to a stop and the doors begin to open in a bizarre, slow-motion screech. Kid looks at me with wild eyes akin to a Klingon in heat, screams “NOOOOOOO, TIIIIGEEERRRR” and panic ensues.
(K): “NOOOOO, TIIIIGGGGER!” I scream. “What did you do you crazy bitch?” Fear and anger seized me. I hate it when it happens, it reminds me of Ma, how she loses it sometimes. I guess I’m the apple and she’s the tree; that anger bug that’s been chewing her trunk forever has me now. It bites deep and hard as I see Tiger bounding down the aisle, tail between his legs then out into the blur of legs on the platform. He’s never done that; he always stands his ground when the drunk bangers start to push and shove on the early train. Something is wrong.
I shout “crazy bitch’ and shove her hard. I’ve never done that, to anyone, much less an adult. I feel like I’m watching myself; this is so weird. Then I turn and run, tears streaming down my cheeks, to find Tiger…to find my only friend in a city of 15 million.
(C): Damn. The little shit pushed me. But, seized by the anathema of empathy that propelled me into this line of work in the first place, I took off, following the kid as he ran, wailing and cursing. I ran, thinking I’m definitely not logging this, chasing Kid chasing Tiger through the throng of underground life. I wasn’t sure exactly where we were going or if Kid actually saw the damn varmint, but I felt somehow responsible. As I rounded a corner I just glimpsed the kid’s back as he rushed into a “public restroom.” I had, quite painfully, found out about public restrooms several hours ago and stopped well short, knowing there was no other way out, and I sure as hell wasn’t going in there. I waited, torn between internal disgust at this ridiculous situation and the haunting realization that I’m pretty much lost, stranded, and pitifully ignorant of the species I was here to observe in the first place. I started looking around at them, all of them different. Hair color, eye color, skin color, clothing, expressions, all different; some subtle, some not so much. I never knew a race so different, yet so similar. A firm grasp on my shoulder bolted me out of my daydream; it was Cox! Looking down (yeah Cox was short and quite stocky) I was at once heartened and somehow horrified to see that Cox had emerged from the public restroom, Tiger tucked quite snugly under one arm. A second later, I saw (over Cox’s head) Kid emerge from the public restroom, just as Cox whipped out his communicator, breathed in a low, throaty drawl, “beam us up,” and the familiar tingle of my own matter breaking up began to overcome my body. The last thing I heard was, again, “TIIIGEEERRRR.”
(K): I saw Tiger’s tail disappear around a corner through the salty blur of tears. I just wanted to get to Roy’s office, drop off my dog and get through another day at the “Diss” with as little attention as possible. I was good at fading through the day, at being unseen. The teachers remembered my name; most did anyway. None of the students did. I had forced, semester-long lab partners that had no clue what to call me. I knew how NOT to draw attention to myself. Now I was crying and wailing on the subway station chasing my only friend.
He went into a restroom—thankfully it was the men’s. I race in to find him and ran into the chest of a thick bald man. He’s not mean looking but has distant, faraway eyes. They are raincloud blue, his eyes. Ma always said ‘the eyes tell no lies’ but this guy’s eyes were mute, maybe deaf and mute because it was like I wasn’t even there, in front of him, like I wasn’t tugging on his sleeve and blubbering. He just gently brushed me away like I was a cat and he was done petting and walked out. He walked out with my best friend whimpering under his arm.
I follow him out, getting mad. That molten coal that had burned before, glowing, starting to sear my guts. I charge out, around the corner and he’s there, talking to that same crazy woman.
“What the hell is…..” Then they start to glow, a little, then more. There are people everyone in the station but no one is noticing, only me. It’s like they are fading. I don’t think. I yell “TIIIGGGGER” and leap, the last thing I remember is grabbing that crazy black bitch’s pant leg, and then I’m glowing and fading too.
(C): Captain’s Log, Star Date 68775.5. We’ve got two unregistered, unvaccinated mammals aboard ship. Cox has been severely reprimanded and sent to the brig for disobeying orders, illicit cavorting with the native species, and several suspicious contraband powders that are currently being analyzed. I’ve ordered full medical scans of Cox, the kid, and the dog. Once cleared, I will escort our erstwhile guests back to their planet, and hope this incident doesn’t get us all (myself) into hot water. I’m stating for the record here that this entire fiasco was completely due to the incompetence of Lieutenant Cox, who I am recommending for psychological evaluation. Captain out.
Off the record, I have been persuaded to, and will in all good conscience, escort the kid and the dog to the “Diss” as he calls it, which seems to be an educational institution of questionable repute. As I learned from a hard-fought conversation with him that ended in an awkward, yet sloppy tongue kiss, the kid seems to think my mere presence will assuage his extreme anxiety that was apparently gained in the current situation, and serve to dissuade him from “calling the law” and “bringing me down.” He must know I could kill him and his scruffy little snaggletooth right here and now. But never mind that; I kind of like the little shits. At present, we are in the control room and will beam down momentarily. Having finally won him over, he smiles sweetly, hugs Tiger, and we stand quietly for a few minutes. Kid is still all eyes, still doesn’t quite comprehend where we really are, then Kowalski nods from the control panel and the tingle begins…… back to Earth
Photo credit: Sheldon Serkin
Cally Lence & @grandreopening
A word from Caleb:
I’m pretty lucky to have creative friends, Nina being one of them. Last month we started talking about making a film together and the rest is history. The final product was following her around Minneapolis for a day, documenting it all. Having a mutual sense of dedication is important in creating great work and I think it shows in the film. Her narration gives insight into what inspires her photography, the style of her work and her thoughts on the artistic process.
Nina’s work inspired me to start this project in the first place and it’s been cool to see the aesthetic of her photos progress over the years. But one thing has been a constant; the way she photographs the natural qualities of her subjects. Nina turns people’s insecurities into something beautiful.
I shot this film in the same style of her portraits, trying to catch a smile or candid moment of her. Some of my favorite images are happy accidents, where it seems like the subject doesn’t realize they’re being photographed. You’re seeing a true representation of the person and that’s what makes Nina’s portraits special.
After getting to know Nina through Caleb’s eyes, I wanted to find out a few more things to share. I asked Nina to oblige me with a quick interview and she agreed.
How did you start taking photographs?
I started taking pictures in middle school. I was definitely that annoying friend who took pictures of everything, and I never really thought anything of it. They were pretty terrible. My dad encouraged me, though, and taught me a few things. I began engaging with the photo community on Flickr at the suggestion of my favorite teacher in high school, which is where I really started making major progress. By my junior year of high school I began doing senior photos, and the rest is history!
I would love to hear more about your growth through Flickr. Could you share more about how it affected your photography?
Absolutely! Flickr really helped me to understand where I stood in the photography world. There were tons of photographers who were much better than I was – and I learned from them. There were also people out there that hadn’t yet gained some of the knowledge and skills than I had. It was important for me to have those balancing factors so that I could see myself rightly in the spectrum of photographers. Flickr at that time was a thriving community filled with feedback, so I gave and received a lot of excellent critique on my work. Of course, that lead to growth. It was definitely instrumental for me in getting a better idea of who was creating what at that time.
There is definitely less emphasis placed on traditional learning now that art is more accessible to the masses. iPhones and other devices have brought photography and digital design to everyone’s doorstep. Do you think that it hurts or helps?
It used to be a little disconcerting to me that everyone was considering themselves either a professional photographer or an artist in general. As I’ve become more confident in myself and my work, though, I’ve really come to appreciate how easy it is for the everyday person to start engaging with and making art. Wouldn’t it be sad if nobody was trying to make anything beautiful except a select few who had an official title? To everyone who feels drawn to photography or art making of any kind, I say go for it! If you can add more beauty to the world, do it.
Thank you Caleb and Nina for sharing more of your craft with us. We look forward to seeing more of your work in the future.
Find Nina // IG // website //
Find Caleb // IG // Website //
Written by Anna Cox Photos by Sam Smotherman
I met a man on Sunday morning. He wasn’t particularly handsome or interesting but my time with him continues to niggle in the back of my head. He told me about being a veteran, about agent orange, and shared that his mother had a terrible accident involving missing lung lining, a brick wall and a terrific sneeze. He spun story on top of story, one bleeding into and borrowing on the last. He was hard to follow and it seemed as though whiskey permeated every ounce of air around him. He cried crocodile tears into his coffee cup while spinning his stories and fell out of his chair while he was eating. He was diabetic and very conscious of what he ate. He spoke with an eastern Kentucky accent, fidgeting with his hands that shook the entire time. He seemed almost child-like when he spoke of his momma and how she would kill him if she saw him looking unkept. He told me about getting lost looking for the bus and how the benches were the best place to bed down at night He was a dirty, dirty liar but I liked him anyway. My friend bought him breakfast and patiently helped him pick food out while the wait staff fluttered about them. He made them incredibly nervous, and although I understood why, I felt sad for him anyway.
I cannot pretend to understand homelessness or being hungry. I won’t even begin to try to decipher why he ended up on the streets or what was truth out of everything he told me because it doesn’t really matter. What bothered me the most was that he had been conditioned to lie to gain sympathy to ultimately get what he wanted. In this instance, he wanted breakfast and a large cup of coffee. When he said the phrase, “I am not telling you this so you will feel bad…” but that, in fact, was exactly what he was hoping we would feel. Don’t misunderstand me, I am not here to debate homelessness or to negotiate sticky social topics. I am here to point out that he and I are not all that different. I have been taught to be sneakier with my lies, whereas he tells his boldly because that is exactly what is expected of him. He is homeless, therefore he is drunk or will drink before the day is out and everything out of his mouth is a lie crafted to gain sympathy. Don’t shake your head at my words, you know, deep down, you believe the sentence I just typed. I know your type, because I am like you. I skeptically look at the young woman on the side of the road and wonder if she actually has the five kids she claims to have waiting on her back home. I ask myself as I drive past and read her sign why she couldn’t get a job down the road at the restaurant I just left. Don’t pretend you don’t think these things also because most of us do, even if we are generous people. Most of us would feed someone hungry. Most of us wouldn’t ignore a bald plea to ease a physical ache. Most of us are good humans, but most of us are also good liars.
The only difference between the man on Sunday and me is that he turned right at hardship where I turned left. He is only one step removed from me, and in effect, you. He is dressed down and wearing his physical needs on the outside. I have learned to hide mine in plain sight. That morning, once his belly was full, he wanted to talk. He wanted to be heard by a captive audience. He wanted to impart a small piece of himself to us even if it wasn’t the truth. We can all understand that. We understand wanting to belong to something, even if that something is a Sunday brunch with two strangers. My friend and I pretended to not be uncomfortable while he talked with us, but we were. Both of us wanted to meet his needs if we could, but we also understood that he was telling lie after lie. It is hard to find the line between between sympathy and naivety. Even though my friend and I were basically strangers, we have a similar world view. Simply stated, to give without strings and to give without the hope of reciprocation. But even as I type that it feels hollow. The small, dark part of my heart says that I am generous because it makes me feel good. If I lead with that thought, my giving is ultimately selfish and motive driven.
What if we strip the generosity down to its base instinct? A base instinct that most people have built in to their psyche. The instinct to care about what happens to those we care about the most. If I look at that man like he is one of my own, then my caring and meeting needs isn’t one of selfishness, it is a pure act of love. He is me and he is you.
My resolution this year is simple. It is that my heart and head will come together to understand that there can be love even if there are lies between strangers. My motivation is one of caring for my circle. I am calling for an overhaul in my own life and heart. I am calling for a community chest born of pure love. I am calling for a giving that will strip down our wants and needs to perfect unrequited giving. We need to give ourselves to the idea that there is no us and them. That there is just us, and in that all encompassing circle there is a freeness of love that gives, not until it hurts, but because someone else is hurting and you, simply stated, are in the position to change that fact.