Mark Dodge Medlin

Sam and Nancy

Talent, Oregon

It’s the early afternoon one day in January 1998. I look outside and see that the field across the street is covered in frost. It’s backdropped by some almost-foggy pear trees and some definitely foggy other trees behind them. Looks like a photo op, so I head across the road, get my boots all muddy walking in the field, and take some wintry shots that don’t turn out very well.

Then behind me, I hear what sounds like a fairly large truck moving very slowly. I turn around, and this huge brown pickup is creeping past me, headed toward town. The truck pulls into the road next to the field. Great, I think. I’m about to be hassled by some redneck for trespassing in his field. The guy gets out and starts walking toward me, so I head in his direction. He’s Hispanic, a little portly but not too big, and about 25.

He stammers around a little bit, and finally says, “You’re taking pictures, right?” He seems nervous for somebody about to run off a trespassing photographer.

“Yes, sir.”

“Well, um, could you take a picture of me and my girl, and I can give you my number, or you could give me your number, and we could have a picture of us? I’d pay you whatever you wanted.”

This is the coolest thing that’s happened to me and my camera for weeks. “Sure. No problem.”

So he waves to his girlfriend, who I can barely see sitting in the truck, it’s so big and she’s so little. She gets out and heads toward us. He goes and meets her on the border of the field. They pick their way across the mud. “It’s actually less muddy when you get out here,” I tell her, because she looks like A. she doesn’t like the idea of getting all dirty for this, and B. she thinks this is an OK idea, but she’s a little embarrassed about it just the same.

“I’m not even ready for this,” she says with a nervous smile. She’s about the same age as the guy, white, a bit of a freckle-face, with what appears to be some makeup leftovers under her eyes. Or maybe she’s just tired. So they stand in the field, next to a frost-covered little bush-like thing. Before I take their picture, I have to make sure of the exposure. The sun is behind them, just a white disk in the fog, so to meter the light, I have to get very close to them, assuring the girl that I’m not taking a picture yet, I’m just checking the light. Then I shoot the last two frames on my roll, and off they go.

Turns out that they’re Sam and Nancy from my apartment complex (I *thought* his truck looked familiar when I first saw it on the road). Nice folks. And smart enough to figure out that a portrait in a frosty field is pretty cool.

— several days later —

I have a few minutes before work, so I take the picture over to Sam and Nancy’s apartment. I’m wearing a black shirt, a snazzy guitar tie and my Indiana Jones hat, which is not exactly normal attire for my little townhouse ghetto, so Nancy is taken aback when she answers the door.

“Hi!” she says, with surprise rather than enthusiasm. I think she realizes she knows me from somewhere but can’t remember where. I just hold up the photo. “Oh!” she says. “Wow. You’re a really good taker.” This is priceless.

I give Nancy the print and tell her not to worry about paying me unless they want an enlargement, in which case I’ll just charge them my cost. I tell her I was flattered they wanted me to take my picture. “Really?” she says. It’s a funny little conversation, and it brightens my day.