Number 103 Renwick Street in Newburgh is a small three story house. On
the right of it a car sits behind a high wooden fence with grass growing
to the height of its wheel arches. On the other side of the house, more
cars behind a chain linked fence, a tiny cottage beyond and three dogs
barking, running up to the fence, bouncing off it and charging up to it
again. All the blinds at Number 31 were drawn. Clothes were stuffed in
the gaps where the air conditioner curtains would normally fill the
space. An air conditioner fitted to a street level window had clothes in
the gap but the clothes had been drawn aside a little, presumably to
let in fresh air or to inspect activity in the street.
Somewhere in this house we hoped we would find Toni, one of my subjects
who was going into my book of Newburgh portraits. We needed her
signature on a release in case we I wanted to use the picture of her,
taken about 12 years ago, on the cover of the book. Through her sister,
Caroline had found Toni on Facebook. She had agreed to sign and meet us
at her house at 3.30 PM. I knocked on the door several times and the
only response I got was from a neighbor across the street, a Hispanic
man in his sixties with a fragile command of English. He seemed to want
to help but shook his head continuously saying that he did not have
anything to do with the people who lived there and did not know if a
young woman with three children lived there. Then I saw her name on the
mailbox so I suggested to Caroline we sit in the car and wait.
We waited only a minute or two before a couple appeared followed shortly
by a third person who said that indeed Toni did live there. "Go through
the front door, down the corridor and her door is at the end on the
left." It had not occurred to me that the front door might be open. On
reaching the end of the corridor I knocked on the door on the left.
There was a half minute pause perhaps and then a voice asked who it was.
I said, "It's Dmitri, the photographer you were expecting." The door
opened slowly and a female figure stood in the threshold surrounded by
children. It was no lighter in the apartment than it was in the corridor
that was lit only by the curtained glass front door. She said hello
smiling a greeting that conveyed a warm welcome.
I said. "Do you remember what you said when I stopped you in the street
and asked to take your picture?" Without hesitation she said, "I said
yes." I replied that she did not only say yes but had added, "Of course
you can, the camera loves me." She asked us to come in and the children
crowded around Louis to pet him.
The only light in the room was from the cracks in the window shades. But
I could see clearly enough to catch the glow of the clear complexion of
Toni's lovely smiling face. "It's been a long time, hasn't it?"
"About 12 years, I think."
I explained about the need for her to sign a release. She moved across
the room to a book case and switched on a small desk lamp on one of the
shelves. Then I saw, propped against a division, slightly crumpled in
places, an eight by ten print of the picture I had taken of her twelve
years ago. Caroline and I were both very moved at the sight of it. I had
with me, in an envelope, a larger version, recently printed on my
digital printer. I pulled it out and gave it to her. While the smallest
child turned up the volume of the stereo to maximum, Toni found a pen
and without saying anything to the child turned the stereo off. "I think
it's the sixth today, isn't it?" and signed the release.
I said I would love to take another picture of her but she said she
would like to dress differently so could we do it another time. We moved
towards the door and the children came with us on to the doorstep where
they played with Louis for five minutes until their mother called them
in to tidy up their room.
We returned today and I took this picture.