Summer 1998

Interaction

By Mary Beth Meehan

Mary Beth Meehan/The Providence Journal-Bulletin.


As a documentary photographer, I am most interested in using the medium to describe the relationships that people have—with their environment, with each other. I’m fascinated by the ways that we can see and then capture these relationships: how, visually, we can recognize and understand them. The Interaction assignment in Bill Kuykendall’s Basic Press Photography class was my first exposure to this process.

Basically, we all construct, and then live within, relationships with others—coworkers, friends, family. But there are very few moments when these relationships are revealed visually. Bill’s assignment taught me to first do the research to learn (or begin to learn) the connections between the people I’m photographing. Then he taught me to be conscious of a frame, in which light, form and composition come together to make a compelling image. Then, and most important, he told me to wait until the very moment when the relationship I was watching revealed itself, visually.

The Little Sisters of the Poor are a community of semi-cloistered nuns who run a home for the aged in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. All day long, the sisters go about their individual tasks and then come together in the afternoon for an hour of recreation, when this photograph was taken. I was interested in them as a community that has lived together a very long time, that shares certain beliefs and a very particular lifestyle.

There are many interactions, I think, in this picture—the loudest one, if you will, in the center of the frame between the two women laughing; the quiet interaction between the two women at the far left of the frame. There is one woman doing a puzzle, another doing needlework—both engrossed in their own work, but interacting with the others by being there, silently. And all of them are there, in a clean, austere room, adorned with nothing but objects from their religion.

Mary Beth Meehan is a staff photographer at The Providence Journal-Bulletin.

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