One Photograph Changed Everything

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Almost four years ago, I met Noah for the first time. His face showed up in my imagination and it was so real, that  I initially thought he was an old acquaintance.  I knew him, though I was certain I did not recognize him.  Every day over the next week, he entered my thoughts and become more defined with his blonde hair, pale blue eyes, and lanky frame. He was young, uncertain, and always looked like he was pleading for something.

It had been a number of years since I’d written anything creative or fictional, so it took me a while to realize this young man’s arrival in my head was something special.  Noah was a character and he was asking me to tell his story.  The only problem was, I had absolutely no idea what story he needed me to tell.

So I dusted off my journal and started to write down everything I knew about him whenever he decided to show up. The list was pretty small until I noticed he was carrying a camera.  Hmmmm . . . he was a photographer.  My first thought was, Great, I know nothing about photography, but the compulsion of strong inspiration drove me to do some research.  After a few hours of digging, I found the phrase “street photography” and I heard Noah’s voice for the first time.  Yes.  Call me crazy if you want, but most writers I know can hear their characters speak.

From there, I did some research on photographers that had any relation to street photography.  A few names popped up repeatedly, but one kept reaching out to me as someone Noah would admire: Robert Frank.  Image searches revealed extraordinary photographs of people who didn’t know the camera was watching and places that reflected vulnerable aspects of humanity.  I could feel Noah’s soul in Frank’s photos, so I knew I was on the right track.

When I came across Frank’s photo of a highway in New Mexico . . .

. . . everything changed.  In the space of a split second, I had Noah’s story.  I knew the meaning of the pleas in his eyes and why he holds his camera so tightly.  He wanted to be on that road.

I wish I could say I started writing immediately, but the whole thing was a little overwhelming. Writing a novel had never been on my bucket list, nor did I have any clue how to attempt such a task.  Noah, however, was stubborn and refused to let me be.  He had chosen me to be his scribe and it really wasn’t up for discussion.  My life was about to change course in a pretty drastic way.  Every free moment I had was now devoted to writing Noah’s story and it was all-consuming.

Noah stood by me through three false starts, multiple fits of self-doubt, and endless moments of frustration.  After the last false start, I found the courage to start again and hold true to Noah until the end.  To keep myself focused, I put Frank’s photograph in as many places as possible.  I put it on my writing desk, made it a screensaver on my computer, used it for avatars on social networks, and most recently chose it for my gravatar.  It’s my constant source of inspiration for not only Noah’s story, but also my own as a writer.  The novel is completed, but I still keep that New Mexico highway close at hand.  There is more work to do and I can’t let Noah down.

c.b. 2011