In 1981 I returned to the summer camp I had attended in the fifties to visit my daughter during her last of seven summers there. Curious to see what the girls were like, I got permission, both from Alison and the camp director, to stay a week to photograph the campers. I wanted to know if it had been a mistake to send Alison to a camp of privileged girls and what values she had learned there. Who were these girls? What did they talk about?
As I looked at the girls through my lens, however, none of these questions entered my mind. Instead, I became fascinated with what they looked like. I loved the innocence and promise in their faces. I saw in them what I imagined to be their future selves, the wives and mothers they would become. Or would they?
I had a new set of unspoken questions because my own life had changed so dramatically three years earlier when I left my marriage and began my life as a lesbian. As I looked into the girlsí eyes, I wondered about their future choices, but I never asked them anything because all I thought about was taking their pictures.
Twenty-five years later, with Alisonís help in finding 65 of the original campers, I photographed these women again. I traveled all over the country, this time with Laurie McDonald who did the video. I asked them probing questions about their pasts, their camp experiences, and their lives today. They were generous with their time but it was the hardest photography Iíd ever done. These were young women who cared about what they looked like and they wanted their portraits to look good. It wasnít that I didnít want them to look good but I wanted to go deeper, to penetrate their facades, to see if there was an inkling of what life might have in store for them. But they were young, 33-40, so I made a decision to visit them again in ten years.
When the film premiered at the NY Jewish Film Festival in January 2008 and I saw many of these women again, I realized how much affection I felt for them. Life has already dealt some of them difficult blows, divorce, disappointments and loss. Iím eager for the next round and hopeful I can do it when Iím 74 years old.
As a portrait photographer, Gay Block (Santa Fe, NM) began in 1973 with portraits of her own affluent Jewish community in Houston and later expanded this study to include South Miami Beach and girls at summer camp. Her landmark work with writer Malka Drucker, RESCUERS: Portraits of Moral Courage in the Holocaust, both a book and traveling exhibit, has been seen in over fifty venues in the US and abroad, including the Museum of Modern Art (NYC) in 1992. In 2003 Block’s 30-year portrait of her mother in photographs, video, and words, Bertha Alyce: Mother exPosed, was published by UNM Press and began as a traveling exhibit. Also published in 2003 by Skylight Paths is another collaboration with Drucker, White Fire: A Portrait of Women Spiritual Leaders in America. Block’s photographs are included in museums and private collections including the Museum of Modern Art (NYC), the Museum of Modern Art (San Francisco, CA), and The Museum of Fine Arts (Houston, TX). Her forthcoming book, Gay Block: About Love, Photographs, and Film 1973-2011 will be published by Radius Books this year.