David and I took a quick little getaway up to Kansas City last Friday for a little shopping and for a bit of breathing room. It seems that the older we get, the busier our day-to-day lives grow. The further away Fayetteville grew in our rear view mirror, the more relaxed we became. The day was beautiful, clear blue skies that only can be witnessed this time of year. The leaves grew more colorful the further north we drove, more colorful and more sparse. We passed cows grazing in the pastures, watched farmers gathering hay in the fields, their combines and tractors rolling the straw into giant round hay bales. We saw dozens of red tailed hawks and I spotted my first bald eagle of the season, swooping low enough in the sky for me to see his glittery eye.
We were wandering around the Plaza area Saturday morning, trying to stay warm when we came across a shoe shine shop. I have never seen a real shoe shine shop in my life except in movies and picture books. I stopped to take a picture, and upon David's urging, I stepped inside the cozy little place to ask if the owner would mind if I took some pictures.
This is something I hardly ever do. Every once in a while will I ask a stranger if I can take their picture, but usually my shyness kicks into high gear and I never have the courage to be so direct. I admire those photographers that have the gift of striking up conversations with strangers, making them feel at ease and taking pictures of them. I really wish I could find the courage to do that more because people are really fascinating and they have such wonderful stories to share.
This man was no exception. I found out that he was born in 1963, that he remembered men always polished their shoes the night before church and women wore gloves and hats. He remembers people dressing up to go shopping, the ladies wearing pearls and high heels and men wearing suits. The whole time that he was telling me stories, his hands never stopped their swishing and swooshing motion of polishing the shoe in his lap, only stopping a second or two to hold the shoe up to the light to see if the dirty spot had been buffed out to his satisfaction.
He stopped his story telling long enough to ask a few questions about myself, what made me decide to start taking pictures, how long have I been at it and the $64,000.00 question: am I any good?
That last question threw me for a loop and I stumbled out the usual answer: "Oh, I don't know. I guess? Maybe?" But then he clarified it a bit and asked me this: "Can you see any progression from the first year to right now?" That helped, and I admitted that yes, I guess I can see a difference.
I'm always caught off guard when people ask me if I'm any good or am I a professional photographer. I always feel as though it's conceited of me to say that yes, I'm good or that I'm a professional. I lack the self-confidence to admit that I'm good. I think I'm good and I've learned so much over the last six or seven years since I picked up a camera and read the manual and decided to begin learning photography, but to say it out loud sounds so vain and self-centered, two qualities I strive to avoid.
I'm not writing this for validation, but the question, "Are you any good?" is an important one to ask ourselves. What are you really good at but are afraid to admit that you are that good? When does self-assurance cross the line into conceit and arrogance?
The shoe shiner's question had me thinking the rest of the weekend and into today.
All because I walked into his cozy little shop and took a handful of pictures.
*** For more pictures of our Kansas City adventure, just click on the "Adventures" tab at the top of the page. ***