by Susan Adcock
Nashville, TN


Years ago a newspaper I shoot for had a page each week of (theoretically) candid photos from events around town. At that time they paid ten dollars per photo. In a good week I could make seventy dollars. It was way back in 1992.
Knowing little about the "business" of either photography or newspapers, I took the bait and swallowed it whole. I was hungry.
Other photographers, friends in fact, refused to consider such a grotesque display of published photography. In their eyes it was something just above 'real estate photographer'. My own mother referred to it as a "shit job." 

I don't know what saved me from listening to them. It may have been that very first byline but stubbornness seems more likely. The one thing I knew for sure was that it dropped me into a new universe every single week. I loved it. In eight years I met about forty thousand people from that particular assignment. They were people of every age and description and I was essentially forced to carry a tune with all of them. Of course at that time, I had little understanding of how this would benefit me beyond the ten dollars per picture.  

Most subjects were happy to have their picture made even if it didn't make it to the paper. This particular Sunday, Frank Sinatra Jr. was set to appear in the park so I had a captive audience to work with.

© Photo by Susan Adcock

I kept their names, thousands of them from left to right in spiral notebooks and sent copies to their mothers in the mail. They loved my newspaper and so did I.

Open house at a neighborhood mosque produced this image of a young woman and her child in 2000. Last year I made a return visit to the mosque and found she had gone to Iraq to for an extended stay with her husband's family.

© Photo by Susan Adcock


One day a week for two or four hours, I was "that chick who could get you in the paper, next Thursday." They invited me to their tables, their parties, and their causes. I made photographs and missed photographs all along the way, loving the exercise of it as much as anything.

I suggested several times that my paper change the page to a photo essay with one or two paragraphs of text.

" We need names under those pictures or no one will know who's who," they said. "Nobody will look at it if it's just pictures."


I went on shooting and struggled with the notion of photojournalism versus people mugging for my camera. It took years for me to admit (rationalize?) that when people spontaneously pose for the camera, it's as much a reality as when they don’t. (Think about it. You’re born and next thing you know, some goofball, probably one of your new relatives, is standing over you with a camera, bleating out the word “smile”.)  

Daddius Davis was 'Scene Out' at the African Street Festival at Tennessee State University in 1994.

© Photo by Susan Adcock


Memorial Day, 2000. Eventually, someone more persuasive than myself suggested the documentary approach. I had the occasion to shoot only this one version of it before the job was passed to someone else.

© Nashville Scene

  That simple job became a throughway for countless opportunities, ideas, and contacts. It led me to people and places I had never imagined before and produced more than a few good stories. People still track me down looking for reprints of photos I shot some twelve years ago. They’ll say “You remember you took my picture at the bar, and I was sitting with a guy named Rick and his sister. It was 1996.”

The strange thing is, I do remember. I can almost always find that frame in a full, six-drawer file cabinet and although my friends thought it was insignificant, it was important to somebody, it was important to me and often, it was important to somebody’s mom.

Susan Adcock


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