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Looking Through the Lens of Nadia Strid

Home
Introduction
Titus Blade Steel
Aid to Depandent Children
Orange Mound School
Orange Mound and Physical Education
Passing Time
Going Visiting
Visitors
Baptism
Acknowledgement

In Nadia's Words. . .

Nadia Price with Titus Steel, late 1960s
nidiastrid.jpg
Titus was one of the first African-Americans in Memphis to graduate froma white school, Tech High.

"It was probably late in 1939 when I started as an apprentice with Avery N. Stratton, an outstanding photographer in Memphis, learning retouching and dark room work. A year later, he paid me $12.00 a week for 6-8hr. days. It was nearly a year after that when he moved to a new location where he had built a studio to his specifications. A lovely place on newly extended Union Ave. (it is now the Junior League House). It was early December when we moved his mid-town studio and had a opening reception on Sunday December 7, 1941. Then about 4 P. M. someone told us of hearing on the radio (before television} about the bombing of Pearle Harbor! I wanted to do what I could. So I left Avery Stratton's Studio to go to drafting school and later worked for U.S. Engineers. At that time, they were doing war work. I stayed with them for 13 months. After war work had played out, I went to work for Fisher Air Craft who was making parts for the B25s. I was the plant photographer, which not only included photographs in the plant but IDs and finger printing.

Things were slowing down and I decided to take a summer camp job. I applied to one of the top summer girl's camps in Wisconsin. The director had just lost her diving instructor and wanted to know if I could teach diving. I had worked on the one-meter board but not the 3-meter. Thought I would try. I did not know I was following the Olympic diving champion, Janie Faunce Manskie. Needless to say, her students were better than I was, but not old enough to teach. A difficult year, but I did go back the next year as the photographer. That summer the war ended. Everyone was rationed on film and paper (plus many other things). I was to put out a catalog with only 2 boxes of24 sheets each of 4/5 film and one box of 100 sheets of 8/1 0 paper. The catalog did have 46 different new photographs. Probably the most difficult assignment I had in all my professional years.

I do remember another difficult assignment when Newburger Cotton Co. called and wanted photographs of their warehouse in action for their prospectus. It was after the season and the warehouse was empty! There was one bale of cotton. I kept putting it in the foreground and shooting around it. Some how it worked and they were pleased.

I once had to do the same thing with people in a church. No one was there except my assistant and the priest. I shot his back at the communion rail to get a good altar view of the priest-giving communion.

The fall after my first year at Camp Nagawicka in Wisconsin, I visited my sister and her husband who was stationed in Louisiana. He was to be sent overseas and said he was going over to drop the last bomb. He could have, I still do not know. However, in the mean time, Billy and I were driving their loaded red conversable back to Memphis and approached a huge cloud of smoke burning leaves late in the afternoon on a beautiful October day. The car was so heavy that it held it's position in the road, but suddenly I knew we'd been hit. When I saw the grill of a truck facing us. 'Billy this is it!' I didn't know how we'd come out of that alive. The man who hit us was passing the truckload of cotton pickers and being blinded by smoke took our left light which later identified him. Billy and I both went through our windshields (they were divided at that day and time and not shatter proof). There was just 4" between my seat and the wheel.

I had been a counselor for Camp Woodhaven at Montgomery Bell State Park NW Tennessee the summer before. In 1946, the National Girl Scouts were starting a new program working with seniors as Program Aids, as assistant counselors. They needed a counselor for the group. I did not think I qualified but they wanted to try it as I loved working with girls that age. Caroline and I had already started our Business and were contracting summer camps for business, which generally meant a week at a time. We had joined the American Camping Association, which is where we made our contacts. I would need to be in Hardy, Arkansas for two or three days while I was supposed to be on the job for Woodhaven. I did take photographs for the Girl Scouts and YWCA in Hardy plus Woodhaven and tried to be a counselor at the same time. The photographs were great but I do not know how good a counselor I was. They were still using the program the last I heard.

The doctor called and flagged a train to get us to Memphis. When we boarded the crowded train, I remember swinging from seat to seat and someone remarked, 'Oh, my aching back' and I replied 'and it's really aching'.

With a scarred face, I knew finding a job would not be easy. I asked Mr. Stratton if he still needed someone in the darkroom. He gave me a nice raise. The following summer was the year I was the photographer for Camp Nagawicka. That fall Caroline Jenkins, a classmate of my sister's, also my instructor in Lifesaving and I decided to combine equipment, her movie lights, and my graduation present, the 21/4x31/4 Anniversary Speed Graphic and take children's photographs. With out a studio, we would go into the homes.

When Caroline and I were planning the business, Helen Geohegan was there but not interested as she was working for a clothing store, but did give us her support. It was Halloween night and we had just taken a photograph of the costumed neighborhood children. All the parents wanted a copy. Caroline was great with children. In fact, she could make anyone laugh. We sat up 'til 4AM making our plans. We named our business 'Photography by NADIA' and set up a dark room in the basement of my folk’s apartment on Union Ave. in Memphis. We started by taking babies in the homes which the mothers loved. Our motto was 'Let Us Come To You'.

Caroline was working for the local Girl Scouts and had talked me into being a leader for a Mariner Troop. Our troop traveled and did more extensive camping than any other troop in the country. At one point, we had 13 straight camping weekends and I soon burned out. Most of the girls made their money by baby-sitting.

I had been a counselor for Camp Woodhaven at Montgomery Bell State Park NW Tennessee the summer before. In 1946, the National Girl Scouts were starting a new program working with seniors as Program Aids, as assistant counselors. They needed a counselor for the group. I did not think I qualified but they wanted to try it as I loved working with girls that age. Caroline and I had already started our Business and were contracting summer camps for business, which generally meant a week at a time. We had joined the American Camping Association, which is where we made our contacts. I would need to be in Hardy, Arkansas for two or three days while I was supposed to be on the job for Woodhaven. I did take photographs for the Girl Scouts and YWCA in Hardy plus Woodhaven and tried to be a counselor at the same time. The photographs were great but I do not know how good a counselor I was. They were still using the program the last I heard.

To get started in business, we needed money. As it was near Christmas, a men told me about Department Stores needing something different and attractive to sell for gifts. She had been selling hand painted scarves and ties, but was getting married and would not be doing it any more, would I like to continue? It was the answer to a prayer. We made $200.00 enough to get us started with dark room supplies and film. We needed a larger darkroom enlarger than the one I had. It was not easy borrowing from the bank without credit, but somehow we managed. After we paid it off, I kept borrowing, put the money aside, paid the interest, and gradually borrowed more until I built up a fair credit.

It was one 5th of July 1959 when I returned home and Billy, my sister, asked me what happened to me on the 4th at 6:00AM? I quickly replied that I was in bed at that hour, and then I remembered that a few of the counselors at Camp Monterey where I was taking photographs, were going horse back riding early and did I want to join them? We went to an open field and just let the horses run. There was a big stump in the way of my mount, which we both saw at the same time. He went one way and I the other and off! Holding onto his reins, I saw a big hoof coming down just in time to turn. His hoof caught my hair. I nervously remounted and joined the group. I ask Billy why she asked. She said my riding picture that Mother had painted with a red riding habit, had fallen off the wall It was a good portrait, but always embarrassed me as only the hunt master wears the red. The time of the falling was the same time I had fallen, as east Tennessee was on daylight savings time. Twenty years later, that same portrait fell off the wall on July 4th! My first husband, Bill Bates, and I were living north of Quitman at the time.

It must have been May of 1959 when Les Passe Hospital was to be dedicated. I had taken photographs of all the living and copies of the past deceased presidents to be hung in one of the corridors. When I knew they were to be hung on a concrete block wall, I had called the archbishop to find out what size nails were needed. I was prepared but a little late as the janitor was leaving and gave me af1imsy hammer to use. Not my job, but if they were to be hung, I guess it was up to me. The two women from Les Passť didn’t know anything about a hammer. The first nail I tried to hammer in between the concrete blocks bounced off the opposite wall. The nails kept bending and bouncing. I told the women to stand back before someone got hit. The contractor had not honored the architect’s wishes. It was a difficult job. About the third picture we were hanging, the nail bounced into my left EYE. "As deep as it could go with out going through" to quote the doctor later. As there was no pain, I told the women what I thought had happened, one laughed and the other nearly fainted. I decided not to tell anyone else. We did finish the job. I drove back to the studio, still wondering. The next day was Sunday. As I sang in the choir, I closed my right eye to see if the left was OK. That afternoon was the hospital dedication I As I stood in the sun, my eye began to throb. Maybe I had a bit of a headache, I don't remember, but when I met my mend, Alice Crocket to go to an afternoon musical she ask me what I had done to my eye, and I ask why she asked? She said my eye was all blood shot. I put on dark glasses and when we reached the home of a mend whose party we were going to, she made me call my ophthalmologist. The same one that had stitched up the same eye fourteen years before. He told me to come in first thing in the morning. I did not tell Mother or my sister, as they were Christian Scientist. Papa drove me to the doctor. It was about 11:00 AM before he could see me. About four doctors and attendants were standing over me burning out infection. I was supposed to look at one spot on the wall with doctors moving back and forth between me and the spot. God helped me and they did a superb job. Two more hours and the insurance would not have covered it. That was my dominant eye and they burned out all the infection. I later learned that my odds were about a million to one of seeing again! Several months later I met a meant and ask him if he minded if I asked what happened to him since he was wearing a glass eye. He replied that he struck a nail in his eye. The goose bumps ran up and down my spine!

One month and a day later thrombosis appeared! A blood clot behind the retina. It was dissolved and in due time disappeared. God has been good to this child of his. He is making me realize that the greatest vision is understanding and love. The love of our neighbors.

Another assignment I remember, where Caroline and I were covering a wedding. in Hernando, Mississippi (I believe). The home was an old one remodeled. The dogtrot had been enclosed. The groom was running late as he was flying in from New York and his plane was late. Folks seemed a little tense. I was taking a group shot, when I climbed on an antique chair, after taking my shoes off when I heard a thunderous crack. I disappeared. I just knew I had ruined that old chair! With the weight of so many folks, the floor caved in. They finally found me and the show went on. They all had a good laugh about me.

Driving home on the 5th of July from Camp Monterey after a week of taking photographs of all the camp activities, I came over a hill in middle Tennessee, and realized the car in front of me was stopped or slowed down. I saw the funeral line coming in the opposite direction. It was probably 1959, and I was in my Plymouth. It was a beautiful sunny day, but the car that had been far behind me, ran me down when he came over the hill. He was going to fast to stop. He swung to the right; hit a mailbox on the right, with through his rear into my rear, and my car into the cousins of the funeral line. I had cameras thrown across the highway. I was jolted, I had a whiplash and badly shaken but O.K. I picked up the cameras and started taking photographs, but I never had to show them. They knew I had them. My car was so old that the cameras were worth more than the car. They did give me more than the car was worth. I guess they were glad I didn't have large medical bills. I waited almost the eleven months and 29 days according to Tennessee law. I bought another second hand vehicle, which turned out to be a "lemon" God has really taken care of this chick through the years.

One of the nicest rewards in photography is the people we meet. The knew young and rich were always reaching for something they did not have, never satisfied with life and grabbing for more of what ever. Hard to satisfy and hard to photography. I guess they did not know how to relax. On the other hand the leaders, presidents, CEOs were generally, for the most part agreeable, good natured, happy, satisfied, inspirational and generally offering some good advice which made them much easier to photograph. And then one I was always glad to have met.

One of these people was Eva Jessey who directed Porkey and Bess. She was in Memphis for a performance at our Little Theater. A mutual men and reporter from New Orleans was in town and brought her by the studio. I took her photograph. It was a real pleasure. My husband, Bill Bates, and I took her to dinner. But in the seventies finding a restaurant was not easy. I called a place where Bill and I ate a good bit and they put us in a luncheon room where there were only a few people which was fine with us as we could visit better."

Nadia Strid

June 2000