Reminiscing with the mayor


“This is the first place you photographed me,” Conway Mayor Tab Townsell said as we stood in the former city council chamber.

With the seal of the city hanging on the wall behind him, he paused for a moment to reflect on his 15 years as mayor of the growing central Arkansas city where he grew up. I first became acquainted with him when he ran for his first term; I worked as a photographer for the local newspaper so our paths crossed regularly. He was always very friendly, and I grew to respect his intellect and vision for the city.

On this occasion, I was given the opportunity to photograph him for the University of Central Arkansas Alumni Association’s Greek 100 project, which is a collection of profiles in celebration of 100 years of Greek life at UCA.

When I arrived at city hall to scout locations, his assistant showed me around city hall to give me some possible locations for the portrait. The mayor was taking a phone call, which gave me time to scope out the building and quickly find three spots to set up for the portraits.

The first was a private conference area with north-facing windows, giving me the quality of light preferred for natural light portraits. Behind a table covered with maps, plats and many other documents sat a bust of Thomas Jefferson, which I thought would make a great compositional element to include with the portrait.

I put lights in front of the city seal in the former council chambers, and planned for one last shot in front of a mural which features a young girl that Townsell swore was his daughter (although the artist had a daughter who looked very similar, he admitted).

During the session we had a running conversation covering many topics in regard to his time in office. I confessed that I thought he was a little misguided when he first suggested roundabouts to control the traffic flow in the city, but once they were built my opinion quickly changed.

He chuckled and said that I wasn’t the only mind that he had to change.

One of the things I enjoy about this work is the time spent talking with those I photograph; I think we spent as much (or more) time chatting than we did actually taking the photos.

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