"Our autobiography is written in our contact sheets,
and our opinion of the world in our selects."
"Photographers" make up a far-flung community. We come from all over globe, are of almost every age, and have very little in common except our interest in photography and our love of some aspect or aspects of it. And yet that's often enough to make us friends of a sort, and give us a shared bond.
Every now and then we lose one of our group. I was reminded of that the other day when Christopher Booth's wife Gillian Marshall wrote to explain why she was cancelling his subscription donation to TOP. I didn't know him, but at dinner last night I quietly raised a glass to the memory of Chris—one of us.
Another member of the community we lost a while back was John Stovall, of Texas, who, his friends tell me, liked to be called only by his last name. He was an outsized character with strong opinions who lived a full and by all accounts eventful life.
He also seemed to be exerting the force of his personality on events even after his death. Rick Waldroup explains:
John was laid to rest at Burkett Cemetery, located in an extremely remote yet beautiful area between Coleman and Cross Plains, Texas. Folks, when I say remote, I mean remote—this place is literally out in the middle of nowhere. After arriving at the cemetery, I could understand why John chose this place. It was close to where he grew up in Coleman, it is so remote and peaceful, and finally, it is so Texas-like—and I never knew anyone, including myself, who loved Texas more than John. The first thing I noticed was the absolute silence. Very, very few cars passed by, no planes flying overhead—just this beautiful, pristine Texas countryside that John had chosen as the last resting place for his wife and himself. It was a small cemetery, yet one of the most beautiful and peaceful places I have ever been to.
There were only a handful of people there when I arrived (and how I arrived is a strange story in itself) and I estimate that by the time the service started, there were approximately 40 people in attendence. However, there had been a memorial service earlier that morning at John's church in Dublin, which drew a large crowd.
On my way to the funeral, I got lost. Now, I pride myself on being able to read a map, and I almost never, ever get lost. But there I was, outside of Dublin, driving down a Farm to Market road (or an FM road), when suddenly, because of some contstruction, I had to detour on several gravel county roads. After about 30 minutes of driving around and not seeing another car or living soul, I realized I was lost. A slight panic set in as I began to worry about being late to the funeral.
I finally made my way back to a hardtop road, but there were no signs and I could not even tell what direction I was headed in. I drove blindly, hoping to come across civilization somewhere—hoping to find a small town or a gast station where I could stop for directions. Another 15 minutes passed without seeing anyone. Then, as I topped a hill, I could see a car ahead of me, in the distance. I sped up, and as I got closer, I began to really look at the car—there was something unusual about it. As I got closer, that is when I realized that it was a hearse. I could tell it had a casket in it. It was John. I just knew it had to be, because what are the odds that another hearse would be in such a remote area, and then I began to think about the odds of me coming across the hearse in such a remote area. I knew it had to be John.
So, I did what any good photographer would do, I grabbed a camera. I followed the hearse all the way to the cemetery. And that is how I found my way there.
Rick originally told this story on the GetDPI forums, where Stovall was a frequent participant, and Kent Phelan passed it along to me. Stovall left many comments here on TOP, too, over the years. I've republished Rick's words and pictures here with his generous permission.
(Thanks to Rick and Kent)
View of Texas from John Stovall's grave. Photo by Rick Waldroup.
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Original contents copyright 2010 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.