Slowly over the past decade, and more earnestly for the past year, Galway resident Patricia Kay has been photographing elders in her community and asking them the insightful question: “Who are you?”
Their answers and a personal item from each elder will be on display Oct. 1 through Nov. 17 at an exhibition of Kay’s black-and-white images at the Galway Town Hall on Sacandaga Road.
A professional photographer, Kay has been drawn to Galway’s history since first moving to the village 26 years ago. “I have lived here 20 of the last 26 years,” she said. She has moved several times, including a stint in Hong Kong, but in 2004 she returned to Galway and purchased a “house on a hill” with a great view along Hermance Road.
Upon her return, she became involved in the Story Quilt project, organized by Mary Cuffe-Perez, which gathered the stories of local residents and converted them into poetry. The project has been well-received, and a book of the compiled poems was published.
Kay’s initial photographs predated her involvement with the Story Quilt. But it was the Story Quilt project that re-ignited her interest in photographing the elders of Galway.
“With every story, I learned something about the community,” Kay said. She told Cuffe-Perez about her interest in photographing Galway’s elders and was encouraged to apply for a grant. Kay did so and was awarded $2,500 from the Saratoga Program for Arts Funding.
Petite and unassuming, Kay started asking neighbors she knew if they would be willing to have their photos taken.
Through word of mouth, one person led to another until some 45 people agreed to be photographed. The oldest was more than 100 years old.
‘Who Are You, Galway NY?’
WHAT: Photos by Patricia Kay
WHERE: Galway Town Hall on Sacandaga Road
WHEN: Oct. 1 through Nov. 17. Monday and Friday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Tuesday and Wednesday 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
HOW MUCH: Free
MORE INFO: Opening reception is October 5 at 7 p.m. at the Town Hall. www.townofgalway.org
“Every person I met, I asked if they wanted to be part of the project,” she said. If they said yes, she would visit them for several hours at a time, often going back more than once.
“Sometimes we have tea and cookies; sometimes we walk the property or view their home before we take pictures,” she said.
When the time was right she would ask, “Who are you?” and if they were a couple, “Who are we?”
“I told them the answer had to be short enough to fit on a Post-It note. I didn’t want a long answer,” she said.
The responses were touching and often revealing of the character. For example, one person said she was her home, born and raised there. Another said she was “headstrong and dependable” still another defined himself through his work: “I run a gas station” was his response.
Some answers were humorous, “I am a river of knowledge of useless information” wrote one elder. And yet another said he hoped people didn’t see him as the local crackpot.
At the show, a case of personal items from each elder will be on display. These include two model tractors from a person who collects the real thing, a needlepoint picture, an auctioneer’s gavel and several dolls.
“The people who participated have been so good to me,” Kay said. “I’ve learned about listening and been given insights into myself through new friendships.
“Every time I push the shutter of my camera, I know that I’m recording history,” she added.
Kay intends to continue photographing Galway’s elders, explaining that this “is work I need to do. I need to connect with my community and give back. This is how I can do that, through art and photography. This is my home,” she said.