There were many interesting moments I enjoyed being part of or witnessing during the AT project. Photographing Jason Fulmer is right up there near the top. Jason no longer teaches students, instead spending time teaching teachers to be better teachers. Consequently, he doesn’t have a class of students to be photographed with. When we were discussing the details of the photoshoot, he told me his idea was to invite his former students to join him for the shoot and asked me how many students we should have. “Three to five”, I told him. Smaller groups make for better composition and are easier logistically. It’s easy for a photo of large groups of people degenerate into a mass of bodies and small faces hard to distinguish. I explained all this to him so that he’d understand why I wanted that number.
When I showed up, he sheepishly told me that there would be about 20 students that day. This was a good indication of the high regard his former students had for him. How did the staff and administration feel about him? Many teachers and staff came by to say hello. “We heard you were here today” they’d all say.
Oh, and there was this that left no doubt that I was at the right place.
Clearly, he’s loved by many.
The students who gathered ranged from just about to be graduated from high school to completing their college studies. One student is currently serving in the US Army. The day had that festive mood that accompany reunions. And the center of the festivities, Mr. Fulmer was all emotions, just beaming at what his little kids grew up to. He told me one of the students told him that he planned on studying education and becoming an elementary teacher, inspired by Mr. Fulmer. How can you not love that as a teacher?
During the staging of the shoot, they would talk about his class. Remember this song, he’d ask, singing a Motown tune with the lyrics changed to a lesson. “Do you remember the state bird”. He also taught them the state dance, the shag. They start reminiscing about the dance when they look at me and ask if I know how to dance it. Ummm, no. “It’s easy,” Katie said, “there’s only six steps. I can teach you.”
I tried the formal group shot but something wasn’t clicking. They all looked nice and all but something lacking. I realized that maybe the better route would be to capture the rambunctious, goofy aspect of the group.
One thing I found funny was how many of the students had names that started with “K” sound; Katie, Kayla, Colton, Casey, Kendrick, Kaneisha, Cassidy. What was going on? Did a fad sweep the state of South Carolina 18-22 years ago where the parents were naming their kids with a K sound? “And what’s your name?”, I asked one student. “Kellyn”. She replied. “It’s like ‘Helen’ but with a ‘K’”, she explained. Oh, of course it is.
After the photoshoot, the group were off to have lunch together and invited me to join. I would have loved to join, to continue being in that festive atmosphere and to hear all the stories they had to share but I knew this was a moment that should be theirs alone. Besides, I had a two hour drive ahead of me for another shoot. So sadly I begged off and hit the road towards McBee.
But Miss Teen South Carolina, if you are reading this, I’m ready for my dance lesson.
p.s. Before the we went into a classroom to start the shoot, some of us were waiting around in the hallway. A little girl clutching a book with both hands in front of her chest walks by and sees one of the former student in his military uniform. She suddenly stops and says to him, “thank you for serving our country” then continues walking down the hall!
p.p.s. Much thanks to Principal Revelle and Vice Principal Bee for their warm hospitality during the photoshoot.