by Casey Woods
After the church service we stood out front in the late summer blaze of Arkansas sun. I watched the little boy step up on the white background, clutching his Bible. “Do you want me to smile?”, he said, staring wide-eyed at the camera lens. “Just be yourself”, Don said. The boy’s face flooded with relief and he stood a little taller, gazing at Don evenly. I held my breath as I watched them together, knowing it would be one of the best pictures of the shoot.
I have witnessed similar scenes in environments as varied as you can imagine. I have watched Don photograph tribesman in Mali, Elvis impersonators in Memphis, and strung-out-ex-hippies in Tompkins square Park. Each he has treated the same. From a preacher to a model, from a Tibetan medicine woman to a porn star, each was treated with the same respect. The pictures he creates on the white background are a direct illustration of his vision. On that clean white canvas, all his subjects are created equal, free for a moment from a world that insists we judge or label all that we see. Don documents a rare space born of believing in the best in people, finding beauty in character, uniqueness, and the imperfections of the human spirit that make it whole.
Don’s gift comes from a basic conviction that there is a truth at the heart of humanity that can be captured with a camera. It’s not about glamour or shock value or even aesthetic.
It’s about using honesty to tell a story of the stunning variety embedded in the commonality of our human experience. That is why in his work these people from all backgrounds, appearances, and persuasions stand side by side, shoulder to shoulder with no rank or destination.
Because they belong that way.
Writer and Columnist, The Miami Herald