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A Fistful of Dollars | by Ugo the Koloist
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A Fistful of Dollars

Fine art and portrait photographer Michael Gilbert was commissioned by a magazine to photograph this 103-year-old woman, the oldest living resident of Pueblo, New Mexico. She had lived in Pueblo all her life.


OK, so the job was to do a portrait of a nice old lady. Piece o’ cake, right? Wrong.


Michael Gilbert:


"This old lady was going to be profiled in the magazine because of her advanced age and because she lived in this place her whole life. So in doing her portrait, I didn’t want to make her look younger -- I wanted the photograph to retain the age that she actually was, and to show where she was living.


So I’m thinking about the portrait, that I want it to look gritty, and to shoot it straight on. I would use a wide angle lens, not usually used for portraits. Since it needed to be an environmental portrait, I was coming up with ideas of how to marry the subject, the woman, with the background. It’s New Mexico, so I’m thinking about the sun and adobe building, and the wooden ladder…


So all this is in my mind and just as I’m about to start shooting, she put her hands in front of her face.


“Is there something wrong?” I asked.


“Five dollars,” she said.


What was I going to do? Luckily I had cash on me, so I gave her five dollars and took the photograph.


As I positioned for another photo, she did it again – she put her hands in front of her face, and said, “Five dollars.”


I stood there for a moment, puzzled. “What is your name?” she asked.


“Michael Gilbert.”


“Well, Mr. Gilbert,” she said. “It’s not five dollars for this session. It’s five dollars per picture.”


What could I do, argue with her? So for every single click of the shutter, I handed her five dollars. If you look closely at this portrait, you will see a wad of crumpled up five-dollar bills in her hand.


So that experience turned out not only to be a great portrait lesson for me, but a lesson in economics as well, from a 103-year-old lady."

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Taken on February 26, 2009