In the early seventies when I was about 24 years old, my partner and I travelled around the country and carnivals taking photographs. Below is the story. If you would like to see the photographs, they are up on my flickr account at
Here's the website --
MAKE YOUR MAMA PROUD
© 2012 Barbara Henning
for Allen Saperstein
I sit at my desk with this stack of photographs beside me wondering if I can possibly write meaningfully about what is presented and represented here. Not only do these photos refer to the lives of my friends and family at a particular time which has already passed by–the early seventies–but they also contain a longing for another earlier time, the era of our parents in their youth and our grandparents. During the late 60's and early 70's, young people started loving what was old, worn and full of history (granny dresses, torn levis, old boots, used furniture, unprocessed foods) as opposed to things new, commercial, mass made and throw away.
I pick up two photos taken when Allen and I returned from Quebec. I can tell by the hat I’m wearing. After spending a summer working on an ice cream truck in Detroit neighborhoods with our hard earned money (it seemed as if we could make so much just bopping around in that truck), we spent a month traveling around Quebec and Ontario staying in youth hostels. When we were in Montreal, I bought this hat in a used clothing store on a street with a steep incline. I wore it everywhere, everyday that winter, that is until I left it in a restaurant or bar somewhere. I used to love sitting in the bar where Allen worked from time to time–Our Place on Third Avenue (later it was transformed into a soup kitchen, called His Place). I’d hide under the brim while Allen served drinks, broke up fights between pimps and street people, and gambled with them on pin ball machines and pool tables.
When I was a little girl, a man used to ride his horse past my grandmother’s house on Alter Road with his camera on the saddle. He’d cut around the streetcar and automobiles, calling out, “Get your picture taken.” Even then, he was an artifact from an even earlier age. In 1973, we met Art Frasier on a street corner in the Cass Corridor of Detroit. He was taking photographs for 50 cents with an old box camera; he told us it was the prototype for the Polaroid. The photos look older than they are because they were produced using an old method. Art put his hand through a sleeve attached to a wooden box and developed the photo in little steel tanks inside the camera. Then we watched our images appear on small white pieces of paper placed in a little plastic cup of water. What Art was doing with his camera on the corner in the older part of the city, represented something lost in our modern mostly suburban lives, the man who makes his own tool and produces on the spot.
These two photos of Allen and I standing by the Art Museum were taken by Art in late summer or early fall. Allen started talking to him right away about his camera and his life. Art was living in a room near Stimson. I remember his room reeked of loneliness and alcohol. In 1973, we bought the camera, and we dressed our friends and customers and ourselves up in funky old clothes, took photos on the street corners in the Cass Corridor, and then shortly thereafter built a little red booth with a big sign–Make Your Mama Proud–and off we went to follow the carnival. We began at the Michigan State Fair. Then we traveled to the county fairs and down to Birmingham Alabama, then back to Detroit for the waterfront ethnic festivals. Eight years later, the camera and parts traveled on a trailer to New York City. When Allen became too sick to work in 1995, I cleaned out his store in Brooklyn and found the camera and some notes, but I never found the wooden tripod or the little stainless steel tanks for developing the film. The darkroom inside the sleeve is now just a dusty little wooden box sitting on a bookshelf in my son's livingroom.
Even though Allen was much taller than me, we wore the exact same size levis, 31waist and 32 length. The most cherished pair had rips, tears and was patched up with different fabrics. We kept our clothes in the same drawers—most of the time we wore only teeshirts, levis and work boots. We both smoked the same brand of cigarettes, too, Marlboros. I was 23 years old, he was 31 and our combined weight was 240 pounds. This photo was from the beginning when I still braided his hair for him every morning, his long red hair.
These photos came out too dark. I guess it was cold outside that day and we didn’t know yet how to adjust the settings for variations in temperature. We'd scrunch up our faces with laughter. Allen’s sticking his hands through my armpits. The light is falling down on the stone path that Eric, our landlord, laid in the backyard where we lived. My hands are in my pockets. Fuck you and the little shadow behind us on the basement window. Giant marijuana plants grow on the roof. Eric’s cutoffs are oh so white in the sunlight.
Mike Clarey, our room mate and I are side-by-side like soldiers posing for Allen. I telephone my brother Bob and we talk about meditation, India, snow and Mike. A double exposure, Mike pointing at Mike, one a ghost and the other solid. Where is he today? I can’t find him on any internet search. The thoughtful man and behind him, the house and a panel of light, the triangle of my unzipped sweat jacket, our hair parted in the middle. Let’s go in the house you guys and bake bread. A shot of light down the middle of my forehead, a ray of light across my heart.
Allen’s chest thrust forward. My bare chest under an old blue striped teeshirt, light on my knees, forehead and toes, too. We were standing at Cass and Warren or in front of the museum or on our street, Avery. Move a little to the left. With a bandana around Allen’s head and a little spot on my blouse. It must have been getting warmer—all those legs belonged to our upstairs neighbors, Diane and Gary. When they held parties upstairs, everyone would dance so hard, the entire wood frame of our house would shake and tremble to the music and their stomping feet.
Dennis was a sweet man and a hopeless problem, addicted to alcohol in a way that seemed a life sentence. Here in this photo, though, he seems so young. I remember his way of talking, so many apologies and so much self criticism. I don’t know anything else about him, where he went, just this trace, so young, smiling, standing there with his shoulders sloping down, hands held behind him, white shoes, feet open at an angle. Then Allen with his goofy self-confidence, leaning against the wall, one foot over the other. In the last few weeks of his life, he told me that the reason he never completely quit using heroin was because he never felt normal without it.
Joe Hendrix and I were once handcuffed, sitting side by side in the backseat of a police car. He was put into a cell while I was forced to sit in a chair in handcuffs at the Detroit police station on Woodward. The police laughed at me as I tried to explain that, yes, the motorcycle was in fact mine, and Joe, despite his black skin, was a friend who was helping me move the bike. Joe’s oh-so white pants as he kneels down and poses. Bob tells me on the telephone that he ran into Joe a few years ago and he is now an evangelical Christian.
And here’s David patting his bare belly (not so skinny yet) while he leans against the sandy bricks of the Bronx Bar next to his friend Keith. David painted the sign for our booth. Written on the back of the photo: Cowboys & Outlaws. Just riding on into the bar. I don’t remember this guy’s name but I remember his anger. He was so high one night and he fell asleep with one leg over the other. From then on he walked with a cane. Blurry me with my head moving faster than the camera. I smoked three packs a day. My father worked for Chrysler. Loop. The loop of shoulders and arms. The light actually makes a dark spot on the paper and then the chemicals reverse it. So Allen is not really facing that direction with that dreamy look but toward the other way. I see his hands. Those hands I knew very well. Light, rough, open and kind of lost.
My elbows are in a stern way, hands on hips, one foot over the other. A very skinny body under that shirt. Pack of cigarettes in my breast pocket. Look at my ass. Aren’t I silly. This is perhaps who we really were. Sold $8.50, written on the back of a photo–not exactly a lucrative enterprise. I’m wearing Allen’s shirt and it is extremely worn and intimate. His shadow is bent at the crease between the wall and sidewalk. I’m holding Marfil, the cat Bob named after rolling papers. I really loved her big body against mine. One day she just disappeared.
Bill and Ann, leaning against a tree on Avery Street. Bill died. Her purse is in front. His liver took him all the way to the last day. We’d just open the door and let Rex and Tanner race around the neighborhood, around that tree. So cute, so crisp, a little weight on Allen. His blue eyes I can still imagine them even though these photos are in black and white. He’s wearing a teeshirt with a monkey in a circle and “slime” in reverse. Some days he’d just go zonkers with his humor, teasing me until I’d cry.
This beautiful one is of Bob who I think was ready to actually tear open his skin and throw his heart on the sidewalk because of the pain he was experiencing after two years in Vietnam, after losing our mother as a child, after using too many drugs and from blasting his electric guitar in unison with his friends, on the front porch on Avery. Ernie is moving his hands so fast, a pale rider with his family and children and grandchildren living in the house next door to us. He supported the whole operation with a little beer store around the corner on Warren. I’d ride my bike over there to pick up this and that. I remember coasting down the street, high on lsd, under those big half dead elm trees.
Allen’s wearing the clown tee shirt from the Palmer Park Art Fair. He also had a big collection of teeshirts, as well as fifty or more hats. Behind the curtain is a plywood wall. A red eight by eight by eight box with a burlap curtain as a backdrop. We built it in our back yard on Commonwealth Street in August of 1973 with a lot of help from our friends. Later we were to discover that we should have varied these dimensions to make a slanted roof. The box only protected us only from sunlight, not from rain.
Allen’s wearing a tux over a teeshirt and levis. He’s staring straight into the lens–a funny look, as if he’s tired. The light is on his left thumb nail, no right, and on the hankie hanging from his right pocket. Suspenders and a money apron, big floppy hat, pony tail over right shoulder. I was ready to swoon from the heat.
Billy knew everybody who knew anybody. He was a table tennis wizard who traveled to China with the first group to go there in the late sixties. He also ate a macrobiotic diet and knew everybody who knew anybody who was anybody in the sixties. And he kept charts of all their relationships. Once he was staying with us, and while Allen was sleeping, he spilled candle wax on my favorite Joni Mitchell album, Blue. I am on a lonely road and I am traveling, traveling, traveling, traveling , looking for something, what can it be? Oh, I hate you some. I hate you some. I love you some. . .
Patti squints into those very powerful lights. Her hands are moving so fast, Dad with a machine gun and top hat, Jean in a little flowered hat, the big purse dangling from her left hand, shoulders wrapped up in the shawl. Carol and I-forget-his-name without his shirt. She was sweet and later knitted a blanket for my baby girl, Linnée. Carold never knew and for some reason I never told her that her husband or boyfriend was secretly into hiring prostitutes.
Judy and Teddy. Her husband, Bob Meek, isn’t in the photo but he’s all around—the bebop music we played to attract customers came from a tape Bob made for us. He was a drummer as was Teddy’s actual father, Frank Isola. When I first met Teddy and Judy they were living on Seward Street. The apartment was dark, dirty and smelled of cat urine. We’d take Teddy with us to help on our ice cream truck. As a little boy, he could draw so fine. He’s wearing a teeshirt with a drawing of a bearded beatnic and the word power on one side. Judy is wearing a little flowered blouse, under the flowered hat we provided for our customers. Teddy’s wearing the top hat. They are smiling. A good moment in their lives. Judy was off drugs. Bob was off drugs. They had just moved into a little house in Grosse Pointe and were trying to live a straight life and help Teddy grow up. A few years later, Bob purposefully od’d in a hotel downtown. He died. Shortly thereafter, Judy went on a kidney machine and then she died, too. Teddy in his late teenage life was a drummer in a punk rock band. One winter, he caught a deadly virus and died. The light shines off Judy’s cheekbones and that white tee shirt of Teddy’s.
Mr. Z, slim, taut in a tie dye. Three kids. A big communal house. Music meetings. Everyone’s so talented and so sexy, sleeping around. I was quiet. In awe. I was there in the morning after their third child was born. That was shortly after this photo. That’s when I decided to give birth to Linnée at home. The FBI came into the Z’s house a few weeks later with machine guns and arrested him for selling drugs (as I recall). The others in the household moved to Ann Arbor and worked for a bread company. I never saw any of them again. Brad baby. Nineteen or twenty (why do I think he is a baby. I’m only twenty four here). He was living with the Z’s and I think sleeping with Maureen. He took lots of psychedelics. High on acid, he helped us build our little red booth.
Patti with her hair all puffed up and that flower hat, flower face and her hand holding the shawl. And this older man. Who’s he? Someone Allen befriended in Detroit, with all his comings and goings here and there. I don’t know this man. I never knew him, but he was around. Sort of sad under the top hat, inside the tuxedo.
We met Halima through Billy Reed and she encouraged us to take our ice cream truck to the ethnic festivals downtown and then to make the booth and work the fairs. We traveled together. We took photos and she made astrology charts and read palms. In the state fair, her booth was one block away from ours. You’ll make so much money, she said. Of course, we never made so much money. We barely made enough to make it from one place to the next. But we shared the trailer, helped each other and tore down together. It was a hot, sweaty and dirty experience which Allen and Halima seemed to love, but I wasn’t so excited about.
Most of these photos are the result of the weather and our attempts to adjust the camera up for our customers. Customers and friends took the best shots home with them. The f stop setting and the time in the developer depended on light and heat, both which were constantly changing since we were outdoors and traveling.
We packed up after the State Fair closed and went to Allegan County Fair, still hoping to make lots of money. I remember I bought an old horse hair coat for the wardrobe for our customers. I think it was a bit cold there. We finally learned how to use a light bulb to heat the chemicals. I don’t think we sold many photos, though. People would look, but it was an extravagant thing for country folks to have their photo taken and we looked a little strange to them. Allen with a bubble gum nose. There’s a little white spot from the light on the bubble. This farmer look was more popular out there—the pitchfork look here and the gangster look in Detroit. Silly, silly Allen. What else can I say? I don’t remember much about Allegan County. We had planned to make a lot of money and stay in motels, but that didn’t work out too well. I believe it was in Allegan where we looked around the field as we were ready to leave and discovered a little puppy who had been left behind. We picked her up, named her Highway and took her along with us. She stayed with us until we returned to Detroit and then when she was fully grown she leaped over my brother’s fence in the daytime and was hit by a truck and the driver carefully placed on the side of the road. We buried her behind my brother’s house on Avery.
In a parking lot beside a roadside restaurant, we were sleeping in our car and Halima was sleeping in her car, a little rusted MG which was parked right next to our old rusty Ford. The trailer was behind us, full of big boards and this and that, all packed in a very haphazard way with a canvas on top. Allen refused to allow us to cut the new rope he had just purchased because he thought it was wasteful. It was such a nice long yellow rope. So Halima and I ran it all the way across the field, weaving it in and out of the trailer. As we drove, the rope stretched and things started flying out of the trailer. The drawer to our little table was full of sample photographs. They flew out on the interstate and then the table went, too. No one was hurt, but we had to stop and retie the trailer several times. I think we were kind of a funny hippy parade.
Next we arrived in Hillsdale for their county fair. All these pictures reflect our frustration. One of our relatives refused to let us stay in their house. And we had been counting on that. I guess we were pretty rough looking. I think it was then that we bought the three person tent which we set up on the football field. We showered somewhere near the animals. I started to hate having my photo taken every morning, afternoon and evening. Look at that frustrated, angry face. It was this nose that the man in the hot dog booth tweaked, sending me back to our booth in tears, and Allen over there waving his fist at the vendor, defending my honor. Some of the customers were upset about the horsehair coat. Since this was horse territory, wearing this coat was a symbol of our horse murdering attitudes. Now I wouldn't every put a coat like that on, but back then, I was different. I think people were kind of wealthy in Hillsdale, too. It was rolling country with many big horse farms. The most interesting people were those in the carnival and selling things. They were so interesting that I can only remember a few and not even vividly. One guy was called Dirty Don. He was the guy who scared people in the dark ride. He was always hanging around Halima because she would give him lucky numbers. Also, I remember a woman named Cheryl, a young mother who had run away from her husband and she was always worried that he might show up. She was working as a ticket taker on the rides. I remember she wore a pair of very short yellow shorts, and she slept in a car with a few other carnies. I have no photos of these people.
Allen looks troubled. I think we were bickering and there was no money and we were grubby from sleeping in a tent. One day we were so irritated that we just stuck the hat rack in front of the camera. Here use this, Allen, I don’t want my picture taken again. And then at some point we must have been slap happy—Halima and I posing with the most outrageous faces possible. I think it was about this time that I started chanting, “I want to go home. I want to go home.” But not in this moment of extreme weirdness. I stop this note taking and telephone Halima. How are you? She’s now a lawyer, married to a lawyer, living on Long Island. Her daughter is a doctor, married to a doctor with three children. Everyone is fine. Maybe we’ll get together soon.
Bluffton Indiana. We weren’t too happy in Bluffton either. It was always exciting to set up and pump our bebop music onto the street. The disappointment came when the customers streamed right past our booth. I remember we stayed in the booth at night, sleeping on the ground. The ground here was a cement street since the fair was set up in the middle of the town on Main Street. We were drifters that summer. After a few days, we were able to make enough money (or Halima had money wired to us) to rent a room in an old woman’s house for a few days. Wherever we went–Halima, Allen, me and the dog—we all slept together. There wasn’t much business in Bluffton because there was a parade twice a day—the Shriners, school bands, the DAV Women’s Auxiliary, etc. When the parades arrived, everyone quit buying and after the parade, it would rain, and everyone would go home. Halima’s booth was next to some gypsies who called the police and complained that Halima was telling fortunes (which was exactly what the gypsies were doing). I guess telling fortunes was illegal in Indiana. Somehow we ended up hanging out with the police in a bar. This sounds like a strange and unlikely activity for Allen, but somehow he had arranged this to help Halima. We convinced the police that the gypsies were at fault and jealous because Halima was attracting some of their customers.
What else can I remember. Just that cold cement and the streets with beautiful old houses. In these photos taken in Bluffton, the whole world was limited to our little box. Allen is so serious, hands in pocket, hands on suspenders, hands in surprise, hands on a gun, Allen standing with a look of concern. And then there is me with my twisted, angry face. I want to go home. And some guy’s name and address is on the back of one card with a note, future plans for the camera. I guess we could have gone to Lexington, Kentucky. But we didn’t.
Instead we went to the Alabama State Fair in Birmingham. We were stationed inside a building, Halima’s stand right next to a Bible stand and the Bible men kept trying to win her soul which was apparently lost as was exhibited by her selling of astrology charts. Photos of Allen are more numerous because I was losing interest in the whole project of sleeping in a tent and wondering if we’d have enough money to eat each day. The Southerners walked by, completely uninterested in paying for a photo of themselves—the whole idea seemed a little too silly. The only people who were ever interested enough in this project to pay a dollar for their photo were the Detroiters at the Michigan State Fair. The year following our trip there was a sudden rash of photo joints offering old time photos taken with Poloroid cameras. We didn’t realize it then, but we right on time, the prototype for the next carnival fad.
Allen in his white shirt and hat, just ordinary Allen with a look of anger. He’s not posing. He’s mad because we’re not making money and we’re probably bickering with each other. One eye is in a shadow from the bill of his hat. The other is in the light and that one in the light is clearly angry. I am a little frightened because Allen is hardly ever angry. He never did anything violent but still as I sit here I am afraid because I might have done something to cause his lips to meet in just that way. It's not that I'm afraid of him. I just don't want to make him unhappy or angry. Here I am with a mouth full of braces and those braids opened up into two long pig tails. My arms crossed. He must have said something to make me laugh. This one in the top hat holding his lapels is NOT Allen. And here holding his suspenders, he’s posing again and he’s silly and true blue Allen, shirt unbuttoned, a watch chain. Come on Barb. We were children. This occurred in that brief moment before we gave birth to our children.
Allen in a cowboy hat wearing a teeshirt screened by his friend Mouse of California. He’s looking seriously into the camera, reaching forward, one hand behind his back. Who is this character? Now a side view in a top hat. A Sherlock Holmes movie. Oh, damn it, Barb, hurry it up. Wow that tee shirt is so white and there’s a circle of white around his right eye. Mirror images. As if he was pressed against the paper. And then me with that black hat. I really liked black velvet and Allen’s old sweater, scowl, scowl, scowl, a teenage brat. (I was 24 years old.) Allen with haphazard buttons on his jacket. Aren’t we all so funny. Finally one starkly focused photo of me. A tough waif. I wish we had some money so we could pack up and go home. Tight braids, scrunched up face, old tight pants and an ashtray in my right hand.
My pal Joe arrives. Once we read the Denial of Death out loud to each other and then he went out and drank a pint of whiskey. More than once I kicked him out of our apartment because he arrived there destructively drunk. He showed up in Birmingham and I flushed the keys to his rental car down the toilet by accident. Then he began to drink and I remember Allen and I pulling him from underneath a trailer. What will we do with him? Everyone thought he and Allen were brothers. Together in this photo they could be criminal outlaws. And Halima with her hands on her hips. A beautiful mirrored Indian print. The light loud on the right side of her face. Her deep voice, big hands and exotic presence. The night before we all left, we went to a . . . I can’t remember the name of it, but it was an end of the fair party, a burlesque with gambling. Halima and Allen were busy betting. Then Halima drove home with Joe in her car. Somehow she got him back into the car after every bar stop from Birmingham to Detroit. He was home when we came back, and he was there when Linnée was born. But not much longer after that, he drank a couple of fifths and one night and he died.
Here Allen and Joe are really Allen and Joe. Sweet and vulnerable faces and their hands just hanging there. That worried look on Joe’s face. The youngest of thirteen, his mother, as he would tell me, used to tie him up to a pole in the backyard. Perhaps the worst thing that ever happened to him was winning a workman’s comp case against the state for giving him such a big case load as a social worker that he went crazy. He then had enough money to drink himself to death.
Finally, we left the carnivals behind. Allen and I drove into the foothills of the Appalachians where we spent some time camping, working in a little fleamarket, and then meeting up with a couple who invited us to their house. I remember sleeping in our tent on their property on the side of a mountain. In the morning it was so cold. And they didn’t have running water. Chickens and dogs and children running everywhere. After we packed up our trailer and started heading toward another town, the Alabama police stopped us on some mountain road, suspicious of our tattered beat look. The scene in Easy Rider kept flashing in my mind as they went through every item in our car and trailer and then sent us on our way. This photo is of Allen in front of a quilt. I think we were taking photos against this quilt in a flea market. This photo of Allen is just as he was when I met him the first time. He was bartending at Cobbs Corner. He was wearing a blue skull cap. I ordered a little beer and he laughed, gave it to me, came home with me to stay for nine years. All around light.
The rest of these photos were taken when we set up the camera at our campsite. Such a relief to escape from the carnivals. I remember sitting in the car for one whole day in the rain. We didn’t have money to go anywhere. Then when it was late enough we crawled into the tent and went to sleep. The light is on that large tree and the roots and some little stream. Allen is like a short tree. And then the light hits the lake and the hills behind. That’s the tent we bought in Hillsdale and then lived in for three months. Again the lake and the light. Allen and me. I love this misty one of him in front of the lake. His head tipped back. Let me show you my breasts. I’m so happy. And so is he.
Driving back into Detroit, in November, we passed Zug Island, a dark industrial island in the Detroit River. As we approached Detroit I realized that I had learned something about economics and the meanness of exchange. None of it is reflected in these photos except in our expressions, but it was everywhere around us. Tricking, buying, selling, scrounging around for some change. We didn’t take the camera out again until July of 1975 for an ethnic festival on the waterfront. I remember people pulling out their personal guns there for the photos and we had to usher them into the booth with their guns. It was a little frightening. I was pregnant with Linnée and the dentist had taken off my braces. I quit smoking and started putting on weight. Breasts and a belly. A baby pushing against the fabric. Even my hair seems as if it got thicker. Amazing the way a young body can recover from all those cigarettes. Under a fancy hat, a baby. The lights are too bright in my eyes, Al. And here’s Halima on a little break from her booth. She was busy on the waterfront because Detroiters wanted numbers and their futures charted. Sideways, a baby cooking under my slumped shoulders. My sister Patti and me. Here with a black toner instead of brown, Teddy and me. Teddy and Mike. Al. Everyone clinging to this little tree. And then Al and me kissing.
Labels: Allen Saperstein, Art Frasier, Barbara Henning, Detroit Cass Corridor, Detroit Ethnic Festivals