• Street People: Part One

    • Posted on Jun 20, 2017

               Getting good at photography requires making choices. I didn’t do that for a couple years—I just snapped whatever pleased me when I grabbed the camera—friends, parties, animals, landscapes, portraits, macro, black and white, “art” photography, app-generated amazements. All fun.    

                Because I was so unfocused, I never got very good.  I have good gear and a fair amount of experience and knowledge, but seldom took photos worth serious attention. I was shooting snapshots.

                Now I’m focusing on to street photography.  That is, unposed shots of strangers—often homeless or poor people asking for money in Charleston, SC, where we live part of the year.    Either they’re sitting on sidewalks around the city with signs passively asking for money, or they actively panhandle, approaching shoppers on the street with their hands literally out. 

                Why street photography? Over the years my favorite photographs—both my own and others, tend to be windows on the world—documentaries in film and news photographs keep my attention and stay in memory longer than posed and art photographs.  Spontaneous, lightly edited, and full of humanity that posing often excludes.

                Here are two I’ve taken recently.  “Shelly” (June 12) sits in the heart of Charleston, on the big fountain at the corner of King and Calhoun streets where Marion Square begins. She always appears with her six-year-old dog, and the dog always seems asleep.

                Just down King street—maybe two blocks from Shelly, sat “Dirty Dan,” (June 18) on the sidewalk, holding his cardboard sign, “Why lie?  All proseeds (sic) used for marijuana research. Please help with 2$.” 



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  • Will Change Come to Charleston?

    • Posted on Jul 05, 2015
    Today's Courier Column on what we observed the day of Clementa Pinckney's funeral in Charleston. Charleston came to a halt for several hours that day (June 26) as the whole world watched a national mourning ceremony for nine victims slain purely because they were African-Americans.  The Bad Old Days of the apartheid South had reared its murderous head.  
    Here's King Street, Charleston's main shopping street looking northwest that morning. Normally it would be packed with traffic and shoppers: 


    And here's Mother Emanuel church, where Clementa Pinckney was pastor.  This is about as close as we could get, given the crowd and the blocked-off street:  

    The South Carolina legislature will meet in special session next week, hopefully 
    to start a series of actions that might lead to real dialog and change, beginning with removing that Confederate battle flag on the statehouse grounds.  

    So there we were June 17, waiting to meet relatives in Charleston when our niece texted that eight people had been shot within walking distance, and the killer was on the run. 

    Needless to say, we dropped everything to watch Charleston TV news reports. 
    A decade ago, my wife and I chose to vacation in Charleston for two months a year.  The “Holy City” became our second hometown, and I navigate that peninsula about as well as I do the Cedar Valley. 

     It’s not home, but it’s familiar and comfortable.  Until now.     

     Now it’s a shocked, grief-stricken populace, struggling to deal with the raw hatred and violence that comes with racists who act on their beliefs.  No Charleston street violence broke out in response, thanks to city, police, and church leaders who were on the scene immediately, offering condolences and explaining their search for the killer. 

     He was arrested before noon the next day. 

     Mayor Joe Riley deserves much credit for being there every step of the way, and for articulating the racist horror that had shaken Charleston.  So too with the police chief and several church leaders.  

     Yet there’s still anger, showing up as defacing local Confederate statuary, both on the Battery and Marion Square, a block from the site of the murders.  That statuary, which celebrates “The Noble Defenders of Charleston” and staunch slavery defender John Calhoun now must be protected 24/7 against such vandalism. 

     We walked up to Marion Square the morning of Clementa Pinckney’s memorial service hoping to hear some of the service from inside. The nearby basketball stadium, where the funeral was held, had filled long before we arrived.  Outside in sweltering heat, we felt a somber city standing still, seeking hope beyond sadness and dismay.    

     Store window signs on King and around Calhoun streets near Mother Emanuel church read, “Pray for Charleston,” and “No matter how dark the nights, the day will come” and “Love Wins Every Single Time.”   

     Needless to say, no Confederate flags were waving in Charleston, though they’re on serious display in the “Daughters of the Confederacy” museum downtown, along with hundreds of other Civil War relics.  No one protests that museum, nor should they. 

     The Confederate Flag on the statehouse grounds in Columbia did get removed for an hour last Sunday by a pole-climbing protester, but quickly replaced.
    The South Carolina legislature will meet soon to discuss whether the state should continue its celebration of the Confederacy via the flag. 

     I’ve observed dozens of city monuments around downtown Charleston and even more in nearby Magnolia Cemetery.  Scores of Confederate soldiers lie there, some with elaborate markers and celebratory commemorations. 

     To my knowledge, no cemetery or city monument adds the words “Even though the cause was wrong . . .” Or “Blinded by their beliefs, they fought nobly for the continuation of slavery.”  

     To do so would, they say, dishonor their sacrifice, or even misstate it, since they were “really” fighting for states’ rights.   However, most historians believe that “states’ rights” is code for legalized human enslavement based on race.      

     As President Obama said during his eulogy for Reverend Clementa:  Removing the flag from statehouse grounds “would simply be an acknowledgement that the cause for which they fought—the cause of slavery—was wrong . . . .It would be one step in an honest accounting of America’s history; a modest but meaningful balm for so many unhealed wounds.”  

     The President’s larger point was reconciliation, a move toward an “honest accounting” so that healing can begin.  Healing begins with that honesty. 
    It takes humility and grace to admit you were wrong.  At a terrible cost, Charleston and South Carolina are about to do just that.   

     After 150 years, it’s time. 

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“Even before the advent of the Internet, Cawelti’s columns went 'viral' in the Cedar Valley… the role of a columnist is to be thought provoking, to take tacks that shed a different light on an issue or possibly cause a reader to reevaluate a position. At the very least, it should bring clarity to a particular perspective, whether you buy into the commentator’s worldview or not.

Scott's work does just that.  Enjoy this collection of his writing.”

-Saul Shapiro, Former Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier Editor
Read Shapiro's entire introduction.


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