Way back before I lived in San Francisco, before I had kids, I was working on what started as a personal photography project and turned into a friendship with a wonderful family that lived in the Central California town of Traver. The family did not have the best luck with money (to put it mildly) and Jose, pictured above, worked as hard as anyone I know, but the were stuck in a cycle of rural poverty that is all too common and very difficult to escape from.
I am so happy Therese (she goes by another name now) has kept in touch with me from time to time, and I can see the how the little kids in the photo above have grown into such amazing adults, have their own families and are some of the friendliest people I know.
After Jose died Therese met a wonderful man, who is a dead ringer for Santa Claus, and plays the part perfectly, when I last visited it was so nice to see how everyone has grown up and has created their own interesting and loving lives.
I always wondered how strange it must have been for the kids when this old man (well old to them, I was 22 or so at the time) would come by and hang out for the day, taking photos of what must have seemed like the most mundane things in the world to them. The kids seemed to take it all in stride, just another day in Traver, I suppose.
After I had photographed the family for about six months of so I showed the work to a photo editor with the Associated Press, he immediately wanted me to put together a photo story and work with a writer to come up with a Christmas photo package. I was worried at first the family would not want me to publish what might be too personal photos for them, but they said yes, and the resulting photo package and story got quite wide play throughout California, including a 3/4 page layout in the Los Angeles Times.
What surprised me the most was not that people published the photos, or that the family allowed me into their lives so openly, but the response from readers. I have never before or since had such a response to work I have done. People sent the newspapers money, clothing, offers of food and other assistance which was forwarded to the family. I do not remember if it was a lot of money, but the story did not ask for donations, so the fact that anyone responded was incredible to me. I can say whatever was given and the letters of support was very helpful to my friends in Traver and the kindness of strangers was so touching to me.
I have photographed a lot of interesting people, gone to many interesting places and witnessed some pretty awesome things in my career, but photographing this family will always be one of my favorite photography memories.
Thank you for sharing your lives with me, I can not tell you how much knowing you has made me a better person and especially a better father.