Ray Strout in Downeast Maine
In the spring of 2006, I spent a semester in Portland, Maine studying narrative photography and shooting black and white 35mm film at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Every student completes two documentary projects in the field over the course of the program, and when I had completed mine — a tutor at the children's hospital, and a junk collector on Route 1 in Cherryfield named Jerry Blackburn — I looked back at my negatives and realized that in spending time with Junk King Jerry (as we called him) those months of the spring, a third essay I might like best of all had snuck into existence: I pulled together this series ofportraits of Jerry's dear friend and neighbor Ray Strout, who put me up and kept me company whenever I wasn't shooting with Jerry.
Ray was extremely good. And safe to say, a little odd. He was a veteran. He painted over all the contents in his house with a layer polyurethane once a year, scavenged beach rope, and dreamed of fixing up the small fleet of forgotten sailboats in his yard. He dug bloodworms for a living — bait that grow to be feet long, with teeth — and as I understood it his sons were all lobstermen. His water came from the creek behind the house.
He cooked me moose steak and onions, took me around the blueberry barrens, hopefully got a kick out of the generous effort he must have been making to entertain me.
In one of the photos below, we were hanging around with Jerry's nephew. None of us were so up on the signs of a stroke. Ray's right arm went numb and stopped working, so we just kept helping him shove his hand into his pocket so he had somewhere to keep it til it was back in commission. I visited him in the hospital once or twice. He got better and did OK for a while. It makes me a little sad to share these.