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  • Gary Gruber

The Story Behind the Stories (Part One)


It was early summer of 1971. I was back in Kingston and chomping at the bit for some adventure. I called Tinker and Sally down in Pittsburgh – it was their last week before graduation and they begged me to come down for a couple of days. In 1967 during my first year of college at Duquesne University, I formed a bond with three young women who would serve as my lifetime inspirations in photography. It was Tinker (Irene) who actually propelled me into photography as a vocation, but that is a story for another day.


The bus for Pittsburgh was leaving at 3:30 am. At 2:30 that morning I quietly crept out of the house with a backpack and my camera. The early morning air was light and clean as I crossed the Market St. bridge. I was playing a harmonica and singing “I’ve got a hole in my pocket and some spare change too. I’ll tell you laudy momma, don’t know what I’m gonna do.”


While the 6+ hour bus ride was uneventful, seeing Tinker and Sally’s smiling faces as we pulled into the terminal buoyed me above the fray and I don’t think I’ve come down since. I was starving, so we ambled into the dining area with a sumptuous lineup of fresh cooked food. I ordered an extra-large plate of French Fries and a Coke – a real man’s breakfast.


It took me about 90 seconds to consume the potatoes. Sally’s description was that “I inhaled them”. Those words stuck with me. I was arriving as everyone else was packing to leave. I had less than 48 hours before the rented house would be empty, vacant, and forgotten by its inhabitants. A lifetime, for sure. We swapped stories for a while. I met the other girls in the house. “The Doors” were playing downtown, so that became our primary goal for the evening. I hadn’t seen them yet and they were one of my favorite groups. Tinker walked back from the box office with bad news. Sold Out.


We didn’t miss a beat. We swirled through Pittsburgh like whirling dervishes on a mission. There was no plan, we just moved with the currents of air that wound its way from downtown up to campus. It was reminiscent of my year there. Living near the river in an old hotel being converted into a dorm, the winter trek to classes was brutal. The winds the winter whipped up were frigid. We would duck into a store and walk north to the next exit, clinging to the warmth as long as we could.


This was different. This was much lighter. This was special. Doing nothing was more than something, it was nearly everything. Exhausted from our adventure, we passed out back at the house. The next sound we heard were suitcases scraping across the carpet and hardwood floor. Hours remained before everything would dissolve back into the ether from whence it came, and we were determined to make the most of it.


Heading for the park, I looked up and saw the high cirrus clouds partially obscuring the sun. This signature diffused light would become my favorite studio for the rest of my days. I had a 300mm telephoto lens on my Nikon F, a gift from my father that he picked up in Tokyo for me after I sent him a laundry list of lenses that I needed. As we entered, I spied a heated badminton battle erupting on the lawn. Tinker and Sally saw my concentration shift and backed off a yard to give me some elbow room.


I waited patiently and fired off four exposures. The game went from lighthearted to serious as a heart attack in a single breath. I was glad I went unnoticed in my efforts to record the moment, I had been chased by a fat man with a vengeance in downtown Pittsburgh before, and did not want to repeat the performance.

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