What draws us into some faces more than others?

Is it the smile or the frown or the wrinkles or the eyes that magnetize our attention and forge a memory with a longer shelf life.

I realize now that I have long been a collector of faces. The beauty of a distant land or my own home state may captivate me, but a region’s facial landscapes become the landmarks that I remember.

Desert granny

I’m drawn to the imperfect face more often than not. Given a choice between airbrushed smooth or wind-chapped worn, I’ll choose weathered skin every time except when I look into the mirror. Lacquered under SPF 60, I prowl across deserts in thirsty lands looking for rugged faces marked by time and the elements.

“You have a good face,” I told an Aboriginal woman on a train ride through the center of Australia.

“I’ll trade you,” she answered.

When I stare at these faces, I remember their stories. The grandmother proud of her grandchildren and disappointed a bit when the toddler hid her sweet face. The girl who convinced me to follow her deep into a village so I could meet her blind grandfather. I gave her a small bottle of lotion to rub on her wind-chapped cheeks, but when I turned to look back at her from the top of the trail, I saw she was slathering it on her grandfather’s hands.

Sometimes, I never discover the story of the faces so I make something up in nursery rhyme fashion.

“This old man. He sings songs. He sings songs all day long …”

“There was a man whose hair was icky. He dropped what he was doing and went to see Dicky.” (Blame Kalyani Black Label for that one.)

In a world full of passersby, photography tethers me for a moment and sometimes forever to people with familiar stories of hope and fear and sadness and happiness.

Some people call it taking pictures of strangers. I call it crowdsourcing for common ground.


Meet me: Sheilah Bright, a sucker for a story. I've been a journalist for 39 years after first publishing at age 14. Do the math. No, don't. My work has appeared in hundreds of newspapers and magazines. I spent 18 years writing advertising for People and TIME magazine. When I'm not traveling abroad, I bounce along the backroads of Oklahoma searching for some golden story nuggets as a contributing editor for This Land Press and Oklahoma Today.

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