Last week, I was given the opportunity to go the Western Kentucky University's Mountain Workshops based in Somerset, Kentucky. MWS is an acclaimed photojournalism workshop that has been around for 36 years from various towns around Kentucky. Some of the best photojournalists today attended and have since come back to coach students with their photography and storytelling skills. After a very long, but beautiful drive from Chapel Hill to Somerset, I was one of about 60 who jumped up to grab in hopes of grabbing the best story out of a hat, one of the most memorable traditions of Workshop. As I unwrinkled my slip of paper, I saw "Love on a Leash" and got excited to be around dogs. But this story went much deeper than cuddly, four-legged pups. It went into the love of one man for his father, his dogs and brightening the days of people in his community. Here is Bob's story:
Bob Walther sits in the lawn of Somerset's judicial center at the Somernites Cruise block party. He brought his three rat terriers, Ollie (yellow), Speckles (red), and Sam (blue) to listen to live music, look at shiny, old cars and socialize with the community.
Bob plays with Sam, Ollie and Speckles outside after returning home from visiting his father, who is in a local nursing home and rehabilitation center after having a brain tumor removed in mid-August.
Bob's dad, Tom, laughs after Speckles gives him morning kisses. Bob visits his father nearly every morning with his dogs, who are trained therapy pets through the Love on a Leash program. Before Tom got sick, he never fully appreciated the dedication his son has for serving his community through Love on a Leash. Now he is thankful for his morning visits with his "grandchildren."
Bob and Speckles pay a visit to Lelia Slagle and other patients on the rehabilitation floor at the Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital with other Love on a Leash members. Nurses and doctors say the visits from the dogs brightens days of patients saying some wouldn't get out of bed if it weren't for a quick visit. One patient said, "I love dogs and cats...better than I do people," when the dogs paid her a visit.
Bob's relationship with his dogs and his community benefits many who would otherwise, wish they had a visitor. However, Love on a Leash benefits Bob by allowing him to feel worthwhile and appreciated in his community. “Smiles transfer like magic over to you and you get joy out of it,” Bob says.
During MWS, we also shot Highway 27, the main thoroughfare through Somerset, where every streetlight is numbered. Here are some of my features on Hwy. 27.
Laden with fast food restaurants, American flags and many car dealerships, Highway 27 is home to Don Marshall Chrysler Jeep Dodge and Nissan between lights 10 and 11. The colorful array of balloons on the lot take 45 minutes to an hour to inflate according to one employee.
Kerry Atkins and his son, Adam, share a moment of amazement after picking out almost $20 worth of pumpkins and gourds at the Burton Pumpkin Patch on Highway 27 between lights 12 and 13. Picking pumpkins is Adams favorite activity all year long. "He's talked about coming to puck pumpkins since he's seen the first one the other day," Kerry said.
A Chevrolet station wagon clad with tiny footprints cruises down U.S. 27 between lights 10 and 11. The final Somernites Cruise, a series of car shows and cruise-ins, featured Tri-Five Chevys in October.
This magnificent experience taught me a lot about my photography. I learned to shoot for myself, not for others. I learned to enjoy what I'm doing and to stop stressing so much. I also learned to spend more time with subjects without the camera, creating a stronger sense of relaxation within my subjects when a stranger with a camera is creeping around. But mostly, I learned that people from all walks of life have a way to change yours with a simple "yes" when you ask them to let you in their lives.