"Baker's Garage April 2006" © Steven Katzman


Please also click here for a related image entitled 'Baker's Garage April 2009'.

Baker's Garage 2006 (please click here to see this image)

When I began documenting, "A Portrait of Newtown, an African American community located in Sarasota, Florida, I stumbled across a gas station that no longer sold gas. The pumps had been idle for a number of years, but that didn't stop Newtown's oldest business from servicing its residents cars, filling bicycle tires with needed air, or an ice cold soda. As I entered through the office door, I was immediately thrown back to the nostalgic period of the 1950's.

I received permission from Mr. Baker to shoot his office. What I really wanted to do was shoot the mechanic working under the hood, but "I have a lot of work to do" would always come his reply.

I knew that Mr. Baker had been going through chemotherapy, and was struggling not only to fix the late model autos that would occupy his single stall garage, but also to maintain his dignity while doing so.

I continued pursuing the portrait, but he always avoided the commitment, until one day he was sitting in his office next to the cash register, the same one his father bought in 1953 when he first opened the station. I didn't have the luxury of time, and that it would be rather redundant to photograph his office with and without Lawrence. So while I took his portrait, I noticed that he had pictures of his family pinned to the shelves. His portrait would be pinned next to his family's collection.

Now I could concentrate on creating the Pano of his office I originally pre-visualized. While I was shooting left to right, Lawrence came in to take a break from the daily grind, sipping sodas, busting each other up, while I was trying to concentrate on the shoot. And then there was silence. He walked over to the far right corner of the office, and sat on a box. I wasn't about to ask him to move, so I included Lawrence in the scene. I knew something was seriously wrong, because of the prior information his sister would share with me about her brother, "even as a child, Lawrence would always sit on the floor when he was scared."

Baker's Garage April 2009 (please click here to see this image)

Lawrence died a few months after I took his photograph. I printed a number of the images for his family along with another portrait I took of him at the Town Hall Tavern. What I found rather amusing was that I didn't even know that I was taking a portrait of the mechanic. It was too dark in the pool hall, unable to recognize Lawrence, just another guy with a pool stick.

During the funeral, the portrait of Lawrence was on the left side of the casket, and the Pano was on the right. Just as the casket was being closed, Lawrence's sister shouts, "Wait! Can we put your photograph with Lawrence?" As I nodded yes, somewhat stunned by the question, the 40" Pano covered my friend's torso, my gift never to see the light of day.

At the graveside, the portrait of Lawrence was clutched by his daughter along with the American flag she received because of her Father's service in the Korean War. Taps were played as the casket was lowered, and I said goodbye.

The second image represents the hand of Lawrence Baker's sister. She sells her candy, making ends meet. Long gone is the women's football schedule, its place of honor replaced by Lawrence. A few more family pictures added, Barack Obama included, the yellowed clock finally replaced, fan belts discarded, quarts of oil and license plates framing the last portrait.