Listening to Priscilla, Luis Pablo and Nadya talk about some of their favorite guests reminds me of one of mine.
I first became aware of him when he emailed me after his first visit in March 2004. He told me that it was his first trip out of the U.S. since he went to Viet Nam as a marine in 1965. He thought I would be interested to know that his experience in Costa Rica might well have changed his life, because he was seriously considering retiring early to devote all his time to photography.
Attached to the email were moving photos of my favorite subject—people.
In August of that same year he visited again. This time I spent a few days with him. I don’t think we spent 10 minutes together when we were not laughing.
In June 2005 he wrote me to say that after 35 years as a police officer, the last 11 as Police Chief of Wenham Massachusetts, he had decided to retire two years ahead of schedule.
Shortly thereafter he accepted my invitation to join me on a scouting trip to Nicaragua that November.
In an intense week we biked, kayaked, and visited school that took up a whole island with all the students arrived by boat from neighboring islands. We met potters doing museum quality ceramics on their front porches using kick wheels and clay dug out of their backyards. We explored churches that were among the first built by the Spanish colonists on the American continent. We were surrounded signs of Nicaragua’s devastating civil war and also by signs of healing.
But with all that, what fascinated me most on that trip was watching Bill MacKenzie relate to the people he photographed.
Laundry Lady San Carlos-
“I spotted her walking down the street, my photographic eye intrigued by the story of her life reflected in her face. Through my guide, I asked permission to take her picture. As with most people in Nicaragua, honored that you would show them the interest, she consented and began to tell Julio her life’s story. It confirmed the hardship and sadness written on her face. In her eighty years she had known many trials; the loss of her husband and raising twelve children on her own, all who had moved away leaving her to fend for herself. As she gestured, we noticed her bleached white hands from years of taking in laundry to survive. I offered to show her the image on the LCD screen, but she declined saying her eyesight was so poor she couldn’t see it. We parted, but for me, I walked away somewhat changed for having met her.”
You can see more of Bill’s work online at http://wmackenzie.zenfolio.com/
Bill did not take my favorite photo from that trip; I did.
I think Bill would have said that his greatest passion was photographing people. I came to disagree. Bills greatest passion was not taking photographs; it was sharing them.
The only time I saw Bill after that was in March 2005 when he returned with his family and came over to the house for dinner. But we staid in touch. At least a couple of times a year I would get an email thanking me again and recounting his adventures in places like India, Amsterdam, and Cuba—and always the wonderful photos.
Bill Mackenzie died unexpectedly in Wenham Massachusetts on Dec 29 2009. I miss him.