When I was in the fifth or sixth grade, we moved from a small town on the Mississippi River to St Louis, MO. We found an apartment complex near the airport, but my mom lost her job and things got pretty tough for a while.
Sometimes we’d drive down to churches in a rough part of the city to get expired bakery goods. It was a big treat for me. I was sick of eating government commodity cheese and peanut butter and ground chuck from the “Manager’s Special” bin. A stale Danish was better than no Danish. My mom would even pull me out of school for the day.
I’ve written about the experience of getting food from churches a couple of times, and even trash picking. But those winter mornings, as we drove into the city, I’d watch hustlers, street preachers, drug pushers, and old men in fedoras sitting in front of hotels that charged by the week, nursing the brown bag of liquor they kept between their legs.
For some reason these sidewalk tableaus caught my imagination like nothing before. The steam rising from the grates—the AM radio station playing Motown hits—the lowlifes and holy rollers on street corners.
I didn’t know squat about photography back then, but I took pictures with my mind. And those pictures in my head seeded stories.
While I dabbled with photography in college, I’ve never really paid attention to technique when it comes to taking pictures. What I like about photography is “the accidental magic” of capturing an image. I guess some people call it “documentary photography” or “narrative photography.” I like to think of them as stories told with the eye.
Up until recently I worked as a journalist at various times in the US and overseas. While I’ve left the trade full time, I’ve probably taken more pictures than ever. It helps that I travel a lot with work: Mexico City, Lisbon, London, Rio de Janeiro… I like to document these places. That’s why I carry a camera with me at all times.
But the type of documentary photography I do entails a lot of gumshoe work. I’ll lurk in doorways and street corners trying to get that perfect shot. It helps me see the world in a new way, whether I am alone in a quiet church in the English countryside or watching a woman hang her laundry out to dry in Lisbon’s Alfama neighborhood.
I want the photo to transmit the smell of cooking foods, the faint strains of music wafting in the air, the bawdy commerce of street hawkers. I want you to feel the weight of faith watching a desperate elderly women lift a candle in an old church to the image of Jesus in prayer.
Because whatever you believe in or don’t believe in, I want you to hear the echo of the hope and desperation in her heart. That’s what makes us human.
Tom Darin Liskey spent nearly a decade working as a journalist in Venezuela, Argentina, and Brazil. He is a graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi. His fiction and non fiction have appeared in the Crime Factory, Driftwood Press, Mount Island, The Burnside Writers Collective, Sassafras Literary Magazine, and Biostories, among others. His photographs have been published in Hobo Camp Review, Roadside Fiction, Blue Hour Magazine, Synesthesia Literary Journal, and Midwestern Gothic. He lives in Texas where he tells his children that he has done worse things for less money.
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