The rest of the story….

South Africa212x18sharp

A high school friend reminded me of an image that was on my old site but not part of this one.  It is a personal favorite and one my Mother has hanging in her house. I used it as part of a blog post back in November, but today I wanted to share the rest of the story as Paul Harvey would say.

The image was made in South Africa in 2004.  I was there with mentor Nancy Rotenberg and friends Dee Whittlesey and Ferrell McCollough attending a Freeman Patterson workshop. Freeman has been a major influence from the beginning of my photography journey.  It was Freeman who inspired me with his creative techniques such as multiple exposures and slide sandwiches.  Both techniques were used to create this image.  All this is well and good, but the more important thing is the impact an image can have.  This image is meaningful to me because each time I look at it, I am transported back to this magical moment and reminded of the important life lesson learned.  I was there during a time when my business was not doing well.  I didn’t feel I should go because I could not afford it, but my loving wife demanded I go.  It was a “trip of a lifetime” she said, and “I needed to be there to learn from Freeman.”  I was excited to photograph the flowers in the fields, the “secret waterfall” and other iconic scenes I had seen in Freeman’s books.  And then Freeman said, we would spend a day in Nourivier, a small town of 300 people and 90 homes.  I was disappointed, I had no interest in photographing people in a small desert town, but reluctantly I went.  And then, after spending about an hour with the people, especially the youth, (who giggled at how tall I was) I found myself in tears, sobbing actually.  Nancy asked if I was okay?  I said I think so, but I’m not sure what is going on.  Then on our “free day” later in the week, I had to go back! Yes, at first I didn’t want to go at all, but now I had to go back to understand that was going on. On the return trip, I realized what it was. I was there in this poor town surrounded by people who had nothing. No electricity, no running water, no shoes, tattered clothing, etc,.  And here I was with $20,000 of gear on my back. I was feeling selfish for even thinking I had it bad because my business was floundering.  I had a very nice roof over my head, nice clothes and plenty of food. I had all I needed, but was feeling anxious, stressed, worried, etc. Yet these people wore big smiles and were happy with what they had.  Indeed, I realized I was needy and selfish and ashamed for being so, thus the tears. I was not sad for them, I was sad for m.  It is this lesson I am reminded of, each time I see this image.  

The woman is from Nourivier dancing at sunset on the rocks surrounding her town.  I montaged (put two pieces of film in together in one slide mount) this image with a multiple exposure I made in the fields of flowers making a slide sandwich. This image sums up the essence of my journey to South Africa where I was able to learn from my hero AND from the wonderful people of Nouriver.

I find it interesting that this image resonates with so many other people. Once again this confirms that when we get in touch with our feelings and attach them to our work, we will create images that make our hearts sing!

And for my high school friend Suzanne, the image is now part of the “Others” folio on this site!  🙂

[Tweet “The Rest of the Story”]

This entry was posted in Abstract, Inspiration and tagged , , , .


  1. Lea Gallardo April 14, 2014 at 10:32 am #

    Thanks so much, John, for sharing this beautiful story. I started today getting stopped by the police and a warning (48 in a 35) on my way to the beach to photograph sunrise. Between this morning’s spectacular sunrise and your story I’m looking at today as one of the greatest ever!

    • john8276 April 14, 2014 at 10:35 am #

      Oh no Lea! SLOW DOWN! 🙂 Thanks for sharing.

  2. Jack K April 14, 2014 at 10:45 am #

    John, it’s a spectacularly excellent image and a wonderful heartwarming story. Thanks!

  3. connie pooler April 14, 2014 at 10:58 am #

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful story! I have had similar feelings while working at Children’s Hospital. I am very grateful as you to have experienced such people.

  4. Jo Walter April 14, 2014 at 11:02 am #

    What a beautiful photo and lovely story. I understand completely as I had a similar life altering experience when I visited Kenya in 2000. The Masai tribe lived in huts made of cow dung and twigs…school was held under a tree with a blackboard and 2-3 cloth books…it seemed they had nothing and yet everything…no material possessions..but had big smiles and very family oriented. The entire area was like a Hugh Noah’s Ark. Beautiful people and culture.

    • john8276 April 14, 2014 at 11:27 am #

      Thanks for sharing your story Jo. What an experience you had.

  5. Chasee Dallura April 14, 2014 at 11:23 am #

    This is a story within a story within a story. I could relate and was moved by your sharing.
    Being grateful every day puts me in touch what is truly important and enables me to see through my heart.
    Thank you John

  6. Jim Mathews April 14, 2014 at 11:43 am #

    John- a story of value for all of us who have to deal with unimportant 1st world problems while much of the rest of the world including our brothers and sisters right here in the US are really dealing with the world in which they are intimately involved. Your sensual and sensitive image is awesome, containing both a figurative and emotional message that just may help unite the 1st world with the rest. More importantly it brings new meaningfulness to our role in using photography to be of value to humanity and not just ourselves.

    • john8276 April 15, 2014 at 9:31 am #

      Jim a thoughtful comment, thank you.

  7. Joan Herwig April 14, 2014 at 12:01 pm #

    This indeed is a very special image. Thank you for sharing your personal story behind this image which makes it even more remarkable. It is a story I needed to hear.

  8. Diana April 14, 2014 at 12:41 pm #

    I read this today and it made me think of this lovely “rest of the story”…

    My Art is the hide-and-seek
    Between my soul’s illumining smiles
    And my heart’s streaming tears.
    Sri Chinmoy

    thanks for the golden image of smiles and the hearts streaming tears.

    • john8276 April 15, 2014 at 9:29 am #

      Love this Diana! Thank you for sharing.

  9. Barry Wolf April 14, 2014 at 1:03 pm #

    Awesome story and image! Your story is so true: we don’t realize how fortunate we are. All the material possessions in the world do not, and cannot, create true joy and happiness. Thanks for sharing!

  10. al campoli April 14, 2014 at 2:06 pm #


    Beautiful photo. And the story behind the photo is very heart warming and humbling. Thanks for sharing.

    • john8276 April 15, 2014 at 9:29 am #

      Thanks Al. Good to see you again last night.

  11. Stephen McCullough April 14, 2014 at 8:31 pm #

    Irresistible photograph. Beautiful story.

  12. Cynthia April 16, 2014 at 12:09 am #

    This has always been one of my favorite big JB photographs! It has always felt to me like *The* iconic JB photo representing your work and your approach to photography and life. It’s beautiful! And it is so full of life and joy! And though somehow I never realized the story behind it, it all makes sense and what a beautiful story for of lessons for life! Thank you so much for sharing it John!

    • john8276 April 16, 2014 at 9:57 am #

      Thanks Cynthia. Hugs to you!

  13. Steve L April 19, 2014 at 7:23 pm #

    Amazing and extremely satisfying when one touches others with their images.
    But, it’s a whole other level when you’re so moved as well.

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