The Orange Line is part of Boston’s public transit system. It opened in 1901. Most of it was underground but the last four miles, in the southwest of town, I exited in Chinatown and went up to Forest Hills. By the early 1980s, this section of elevated rail had become run-down, filthy, and dangerous, inadvertently creating affordable housing in the area, and low rents attracting people who couldn’t afford to live in other parts of Boston. Homelessness and poverty have become major issues.
The section was scheduled for demolition in 1985. There were fears that when the overhead railway collapsed, gentrification would occur, displacing the people who lived there. I was one of five photographers commissioned by Urban Arts to capture what we found interesting along this stretch before it was demolished.
This woman I encountered lived in a homeless shelter with her two children. Her plight is very clear in her facial expression: she seems concerned about the well-being of her two very young children and perhaps the loss of shelter. I was amazed and appreciated that she came to the camera with such candor and confidence.
I’ve been setting up Dierdorf’s Big Tripod Camera since 1928. I don’t direct or train those I photograph. I will not go so far as to suggest where they might stand. I just try to make them comfortable, and let them choose what they want to reveal about themselves. I wait for a seemingly descriptive moment and release the shutter. The motion blur in the background here is serendipitous: I was so focused on taking the photo that I didn’t realize a car was pulling off the road.
I think all images of troubled mothers with young children find a precedent in Dorothea Lange’s famous 1936 photograph of The Immigrant. This young woman in my picture embodied the fears of many, who dreaded the displacement that seemed certain after the demolition of the Orange Line.
The railway broke down in 1985. The line still terminates at Forest Hills Station, but by a different route. What was feared has come true. Most of the homeless shelters are gone and now there are very upscale stores, upscale restaurants, and high-rise apartment complexes. By law some are set aside for low incomes but the sky is the limit for the rest and rents are very high.
I was first exposed to photography by my father. A serious hobbyist, he used an Exakta 35mm camera and kept a convertible darkroom in our bathroom. My early interest was in chemical processes, where a negative is dropped onto a piece of blank white photographic paper, which is then dipped in a chemical. Magically, a photo will start to appear. It can be addictive.
Gradually, I noticed other things happening in my photos, related to interpretation, meaning, and substance. I have come to identify with photography as a powerful form of expression. My pictures can say things I can’t express. This is when I became hooked. Photography has become a way of life or, more precisely, an obsession. I am more likely to leave my house without my wallet than with my camera.
Photography is a process of discovery. Every picture is a surprise. As photographers, we don’t know what we’re looking for until we find it. My first significant project was in 1970, photographing people in a nursing home on an island near Boston. People have always intrigued me. Projects she has worked on include the Salvation Army, women inmates, cross-country camps and families living on dumps in Tijuana, Mexico. I hope my photos can make an impact. But it may be a false hope. I don’t think pictures are the best tools for social change. legislation.
Biography of Jack Luders Booth
Boy: Boston, USA, 1935.
Effects: Bernice Abbott, Eugene Atget, Chauncey Hare, Graciela Iturbide, Joseph Kudelka, August Sander.
High point: “I left my corporate job for good in 1970, at the age of 35, to practice and teach photography.”
low point: “One evening, when I was photographing the families living on the dumps of Tijuana, all the pickers had come home and I was surrounded by a pack of 30 wild dogs. They gathered in a pack, charging towards me. It was terrifying.”
summit Hint: “Photograph what you love and picture it as you mean it. Always know that your best work lies ahead. And don’t give up your day job.”