Once a year, photographers from all over the U.S. swoop into a Missouri town to capture a slice of small-town America. This year's Missouri Photo Workshop returned to Boonville for the third time in its 71-year history.
The workshop brought 39 photographers to search for unexpected stories within the city of just over 8,000. It began Sept. 22 and ended Saturday. Ten faculty, 17 crew members and six alumni ran the workshop, along with the three co-directors and one emeritus co-director.
Documenting everything from schools to farms and businesses to homes, hundreds of photographs were carefully placed table-by-table in the gymnasium of Laura Speed Elliot Elementary School on Saturday morning for the residents of the city to come see.
The workshop, having visited Boonville three times, was in a position to display three generations of stories. While this year's photos filled the gymnasium, exhibits from 1953 and 1998 were displayed in the cafeteria.
Lifelong Boonville residents filed through, looking at their history. Some made wistful remarks when they saw somebody they recognized in a photo taken more than two decades ago.
Emeritus co-director of the workshop Duane Dailey remains involved in the program, and was in attendance at the show Saturday.
“It’s fun to follow the people and see them when they see themselves, but especially seeing their neighbors, seeing other people," he said.
As Dailey reflected on his history with the workshop, he said, “Pictures are so powerful for telling the story of a town.”
On Monday, photographers scattered throughout the town, looking for stories. By Tuesday, with a story in hand, they started shooting with a deadline of Friday at noon. The rest of Friday was spent editing to prepare for Saturday's show. The catch was that each photographer was only allowed 400 pictures all week — not much when you're spending four straight days with a camera in hand.
Deshaunae Jackson-Lewis, of Cleveland, documented a couple in a long-term relationship.
“The first day, I just wanted to capture any moment that I saw,” she said.
When Jackson-Lewis realized she would have to be judicious to capture intimate moments, she began to “really think and slow down.” In the end, she said she was happy with what she got, and had become so close to her subjects that she was planning on keeping in touch.
Jeff Dean, a Cincinnati-based photographer, captured James Hurt, Boonville coroner and lifelong resident, in a composition titled, “A lifetime of community service.”
"Getting to hang out with James and tell his story has been great," Dean said.
He also said learning from the faculty and his fellow photographers was a highlight of the workshop.
Dean noted that it has been particularly special to watch the community see itself in a “completely different light,” as Boonville residents browsed the tables displaying their town's stories.
Hurt noted how tightly knit the community is.
"When you follow me around, you watch all these people that want to come up and talk to me, that want to hug on me," Hunt said.
And Dean seemed to take notice. When asked about his biggest take away from the week, Dean said: “Everyone has a story. That’s it. Everyone has a story.”
As the workshop prepared to pack up for the year, its impact was clear — not just on the photographers, but on residents, as well. Seeing the stories of their past and present was clearly a powerful experience for the city. But most important of all was the opportunity for Boonville's residents to be seen.
“I’ve always wanted to tell my story to someone,” Hurt said as he looked over the photos of himself.