Digital Documentary Photography
I set out to document the Duke maintenance staff I wasn’t really
sure what approach I should take. I remember that the original concept
of the project came from various stories I had heard about Duke maintenance
workers from friends. One friend related to me a story about a coworker
that he worked with at the Duke Recycling Center. He told me that one
of the Duke employees had been driving the same truck, without a promotion,
for twenty years. Another friend pointed to a Chronicle article that
profiled a woman who had been working at Chick-Fil-A for thirty years.
These stories were disturbing to me because I had probably seen or interacted
with that man and woman at some point during my time at Duke, and I
wouldn’t even know their faces if I saw them again. So it occurred
to me at that point that there was something fundamentally flawed about
the current dynamic between the students of Duke University and the
employees. I started to see an apathy, in myself and in others, towards
those who work the less glorious jobs in the dorms and elsewhere. There
seemed to be a whole workforce that was invisible to the student population
and either they were being hidden from us deliberately or we as students
were refusing to see the people who do important work.
So with these questions in mind I started to get up earlier in the morning
with the intention of meeting some of these people who I thought were
invisible. I met Sheriffe first while I was wandering the hallways of
Kilgo. I explained to her my project and she agreed to let me follow
her through her daily routine. She seemed interested in why I was documenting
her work and this gave me some hope, that maybe my project might go
I met Keith next and learned more about the daily routine of a Residence
Life and Housing employee. I followed him on three different occasions
and tried to document his work as completely as possible, yet I never
really got to know him as a person. This I would say is my biggest regret,
that I was not able or willing to cultivate a more meaningful relationship
with someone who was open to letting me photograph his work.
Once I came to the decision that I was not going to pursue a personal
profile of one worker, I tried to branch outside of the dormitories.
I met Andy and John on the West Campus quad and followed them for a
few hours while they cleared leaves from the patios. They didn’t
say much, probably because the leaf blowers were incredibly loud, but
they seemed completely open to letting me document their work.
The last photographs I took were of the trash compactor being transported
out of the Kilgo fire lane. I felt that including these images would
complete the cycle of trash from its source (students) through its handling
(Residence Life and Housing Services) and finally to its last stages
of transport away from Duke’s campus (Duke Sanitation).