This essay is inspired by the words of Pulitzer Prize–winning Chicago Sun Times photographer John White, who once told me to “listen for the pictures.” His message rang clear but never more so than when in 1990 we were covering the release of Nelson Mandela in Cape Town, South Africa. The Cape Town scene was alive and filled with so much vibrance. I was keenly aware that I must not just look, but I must listen, and use all my God-given senses to take it in. I can only describe the moment I started listening to the layer of sound, which was my own clicking camera superimposed on the chorus of sounds that surrounded me as both meta and sonorific. There was a certain rhythm to the sensation I felt in being one with my camera. It transported me to a wonderful place in time where visuals and cadences danced together.
I realized there was alchemy in this and in all the other moments and locations I had spent behind a camera developing and exercising that “inner ear” my ancestors, some gone, like Gordon Parks, but others here, like White, taught me to revere. This essay is a snapshot of some of those moments—a proof sheet, if you will—from a life that began, as did the civil rights era, with instances of terror and triumph. This essay chronicles my journey as a young photographer and the many influences that shaped my creative process and eventually my worldview. This essay is an invitation to travel with me through time and see life as my camera and I witnessed it, and to hear and sense the world as I do.