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As “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” by Pink Floyd was playing over the speakers outside the bar, Jeffrey danced along and said:
  “This song reminds me of you taking my picture right now. It’s real. Thanks for being you. I like all your beads. And fuck, you got more tattoos than I do!”

It was hard not to notice Jeffrey when he was standing outside the American Legion bar, staring directly at me. I nervously didn’t really know what to expect, and wondered if he was staring because of my queerness, or the way I was dressed. It’s usually where my mind goes when I’m in a space like an American veteran bar.

He eventually walked over and started talking to my friends and I because he was interested in our discussion we were having about books, and very quickly our conversation turned into us listening to Jeffrey talk about anything and everything. I remember how much he kept making me laugh—he had such a big and unique personality that it caught me off guard. I very quickly realized that Jeffrey was one of the most sincere people I had ever encountered.

At one point he saw me fiddling with my camera, and when he heard that I was looking for an allen key to get the tripod plate off of it, he immediately offered to bike home to get one. I kept telling him he really didn’t have to do that, so instead he started asking around the bar until he found someone who had one.

From the moment he walked up to us I knew I wanted to make a portrait of him. For the first couple times that I asked and brought it up, he brushed it off and said he was “too ugly” for a photo. Somewhere in the hours that we talked and got to know one another, he felt comfortable enough to let me take photos of him. I watched his confidence soar when he heard my camera had B&W film in it and asked to pose like James Dean. He started bragging to his friends who came out of the bar asking what the hell he was doing, and they laughed and couldn’t believe someone wanted to take a picture of him.

We ended up talking for three hours, and by the end of the night our goodbye turned into 30 minute “no you hang up” and there were tears in his eyes. I left the bar with a new friend, and a conversation I would never forget. Here are the portraits I made of him, and snippets of our conversation.

When I first asked Jeffrey if I could take his picture,he immediately dismissed it and said he was “too ugly” for a photo. I assured him that he was beautiful and interesting and perfect for a portrait, but for a while he just kept dismissing the idea. 

An hour or so later, he told me he was going to go “fix up” his hat and hair and that he’d be ready for his photo. As I was taking his photograph, his friends around the bar were asking “What are you doing out there?” and “Are they making money off you?” When Jeffrey told them I was taking a portrait of him, his friends laughed and didn’t believe him.

“I been bent and torn and, this is my safe place. It’s soothing you know. Everyone has respect for everyone.”

Before taking his portrait, I told Jeffrey

“I know you said you didn’t think you were beautiful enough for a portrait but, you really are a beautiful person, and it’s going to be a beautiful portrait.”

Jeffrey was silent for a moment, and paused to smile at me.

“You know, that’s when I know when people are genuine, just like animals man. You guys were very…. I go wow. And then you started asking questions and I was thinking what are you doing? And you said I want to make a portrait of you. And I’m flabbergasted, I’m like of what? of who? It didn’t click. I’m just me.”

After taking his portrait, I asked Jeffrey if he had an email, and he said “I don’t even have a phone right now.” I asked if he’d give me his mailing address so I could mail him the prints I was going to make of him. I handed him one of the coasters from the bar and he wrote his name and address, and I gave him one in exchange with my email and number.

When I told Jeffrey it might take me a bit to develop the film, print the photos and mail it to him, he said

“No hurries, no worries. But come back to see me.”

“Hey by the way, keep up the good work, cause you have a good eye.”

“If you had a megaphone and you could reach everyone on earth what would you say?

“Get OFF the phone and SMELL the roses! Good always wins over evil and I try to be nice. I wanted to make a peace bomb when I was 5 years old. To plop over the whole world. Can’t we just get along? Everybody? A peace bomb with good stuff in it.”

“What would it have in it?”

“Animals. Music. Goodness.”


          © Nat Segebre 2024