Souls of a Small Town: A Personal Photography Project

live awake for your life and the people who matter most

“Just take the pictures.”  

That’s what my husband kept telling me. For over a year, I’d kept saying how I’d love to shoot documentary photographs of some of the people in our small town.

We’d drive by, see someone on the street, and my heart would skip a beat, because I knew what their photo looked like in my mind.

I’d sigh and say,

“I would love to get a picture of them.”

BUT, I NEVER TOOK THE PHOTOGRAPHS.

I felt like I needed a reason to take these photos.

I needed a “why.” I didn’t have one.

I just wanted to.

I wanted to capture these simple moments that happen in our small Central Texas town of Hamilton. I wanted to capture moments + memories of the people that help make our town unique.

I wanted to capture the small town ways that we sometimes overlook…

The Regulars’ tables filled with old-timers solving the world’s problems, the hardware store cat, our crosswalk lady, beloved retired teachers, Bert at the old drug store soda counter, kids preparing and taking care of their animals for stock shows….. the moments that are happening around us every day, but we sometimes take for granted and overlook.

These are the people and the moments I wanted to photograph, but I still waited.

I kept asking,

“What am I going to ‘do’ with them?”

I still felt like I needed a reason to take these photos. Being a portrait photographer, I’m used to sessions + weddings and having an end result. I didn’t know what my end result would be.

One day, my husband looked me in the eyes and said, “just take the pictures.” After he said that, I realized I didn’t have to have a reason or a why. I didn’t have to DO anything with them.

All I had to do was take the pictures.

It wasn’t long after that conversation that I ran into Bert Schrank. I’d been wanting to take his picture at the soda counter for a really long time. We did our usual visiting and then I nervously asked if I could take his picture at the counter one morning. I asked and was fully prepared to answer, “I don’t know,” or, “because I want to,” when he asked me why.

Luckily, his response was:

“Sure. I’m usually there around 10 o’clock.”

I finally did it.

I went to the drug store and captured the image of Bert that had been in my mind for so long. Afterward, I sat and visited with him. He’s one of the sweetest souls ever. I left with a smile on my face and the feeling that my heart was about to burst.

I get so much more out of documenting these moments than I could have ever imagined.

Sometimes it’s a great quote or a funny story. Sometimes it’s a lesson on how to make a pie crust and a hug that leaves flour hand prints on my back. And sometimes, it’s a feeling like someone is speaking directly to my soul.

I still don’t have a definite reason for taking the pictures. I still just want to document the simple moments and special people that make up small towns. I know now that I love to do this and I’m incredibly thankful for the simple advice to, “just take the pictures.”

Bert:

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“You should’ve seen this soda counter years ago. Come 9:00, it would be full of coffee drinkers. Hatch. Harelik. All my old cronies were here. Do you remember Della May? She sure would give it back when anyone gave her a hard time.

Now, it’s just me and Shockley that still come in here to drink coffee. Which reminds me, I haven’t seen him in a few days. I hope he’s not sick.”—Bert Schrank

Mrs. Wilhelm:

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“When I grew up, a girl could either be a nurse or a teacher and I decided to be a teacher. I liked cooking, so I went into nutrition.”—Mrs. Wilhelm

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The Regulars’ Table at The Smoke Shack:

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“You ought to see the looks on the faces of out-of-towners when we all go sit at the same table. Sometimes, it’s full in here and we invite them to sit with us at our table. We tell stories to break the ice. They eventually start talking and cracking jokes, too.”—The Regulars’ Table- Smoke Shack

Stock Show Girls:

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“The first year, we had two pigs. Now, we have all these. It’s a lot of work, but we love it.”—Reagan Wagner

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Ben — The Cat:

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“Well, let me tell ya a little about Ben. He’s a rescue cat from Riverside turned local celebrity. Out-of-towner’s even come into the hardware store looking for him. I’ll ask ‘Can I help you find something?’ and they’ll say, ‘we’re just here to see the cat.'”—Holly May-Lawso, Ken’s True Value Hardware Store

The Crosswalk:

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“25 years standing on the corner and playing in the highway.  There is only one rule.  You don’t get off the curb til Ms. Jackie tells you to get off the curb.”— Jackie Christian

Story + photography contributed by Elizabeth Marquess.

About Elizabeth Marquess:

Elizabeth Marquess is the owner of Liza Jane Photography in the small town of Hamilton, Texas. She’s a photographer that shoots relaxed family portraits, seniors, and weddings. Recently, she started documenting people and places of small towns in and around Hamilton. The project is called: Souls of a Small Town.  Facebook

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