Souls of a Small Town: A Personal Photography Project

“Just take the pictures.”  That’s what my husband kept telling me.  For over a year, I had kept saying how I would love to shoot some documentary style photographs of some of the people in our small town.  We would drive by and see someone on the street and my heart would skip a beat, because I knew what their photo looked like in my mind.  I would 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 and 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 am 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 had 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 I wanted to take his picture.  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 is 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 will 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

This post’s writing & photography is from Liza Jane Photography at the following links: 

Website // Facebook // Instagram // Pinterest

About Elizabeth Marquess:

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

Author: Eboni Rivera
Fearless and Framed's Course and Community Ambassador + Self proclaimed "Memory Giver". Eboni is a Family Documentary Photographer and Film Artist at Luxe Art Images, LLC located in Long Island, NY. She provides emotive, heart-tugging, feel good photography and films for families who give a damn about the preservation of their memories. Her approach to photography allows families to leave behind a legacy of who they are, how much they love and just how awesome their lives truly are.

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  • Elizabeth, I adore this series. It makes me wish I lived in a small town where everyone knows everyone else. Beautiful images to go with beautiful people and their stories. Keep going with this – it’s wonderful!!

  • This is a wonderful idea! Now that my kids are in school I think about all the community members that are part of our lives on a daily basis. I would love to honor them in a similar way.

  • Love the people and the stories. Life is not always about the rich and famous. They are ordinary people. Keep up the good work!

  • Liz…this is fabulous! Thank you for capturing some great memories! I literally am typing this message with tears of happiness in my eyes. ❤️

  • These are just lovely, Elizabeth. You captured their essence very well. I love the quotes you got from them, too. I can hear their voices. Good job!

  • Once again, your natural talent for capturing picture-perfect moments on camera shines through in these photographs! Lucky for us, you also have a genuine, loving heart to go along with that talent! Kudos to you, Liz!

  • I love it!! Made me a little teary eyed…sniff sniff. Not sure why but maybe having lived here all of my life it just was so familiar and yet so different than it was years ago, too maybe? But I could look at pictures like this ALL DAY!

  • I’m so glad John encouraged you to “just take the pictures”! And even gladder that you did! What a wonderful tribute to your hometown and the lovely souls who live here. Well done, Liz, well done!

  • Hamilton is my home town, not because I grew up there but because I simply made it mine. I lived there nearly 14 years and loved every minute of it. My two sons grew up there. Caleb was 3 when we arrived and Luke was 1. The people are wonderful and I love all of them. Bert Schrank and Ms. Wilhelm are two of my heroes and favorites. Lovely people. Beautiful photos of them, and Jackie, too, at the crosswalk. I have so many incredible memories of Hamilton and its people. I love Hamilton. This is a terrific project. So creative and fun. Thank you for sharing it.

  • They are beautiful, Liza Jane!! I suddenly have a deep yearning to go home! So proud you are telling the stories of those who are familiar to our wonderful town!

  • Wow! Elizabeth, what an amzing beginning to a wonderful project! You seem to”see” straight into the heart of our hometown. These images and the interviews brought tears to my eyes! I can’t wait to see what comes next. Your husband was right…”Just take the pictures.”

  • Keep going, it’s amazing to read about my wonderful small town. I love Jackie, she’s just a wonderful lady. I will have to steal that one of my daughter, lol. There are so many wonderful people here. Can’t wait to read the rest.

  • I love your pictures,I lived in Hamilton from1975 till 1990 and enjoyed my time at my Hobby House and ice cream store down town and my friends from Calvery Baptist also Jackie and her family and her mother Marge Sue Graves

  • This post made me cry. So many happy faces and just enough story with each person to let an outsider know who they are. Well done. I am glad your husband told you to “Just take the pictures.”