The Loneliest Man


This is a photo of Eric Soledad, who spent five years in the Utah State Correctional System for gang activities related to the stealing of a gumball machine.

Eric lives next door to my friends Paula and Pablo Airth in Ogden, UT. I saw him shirtlessly mowing the lawn with his father in mid-October. They looked like they were having a blast.

But as soon as I realized that someone actually had "lonely" carefully tatooed across the entire beam of his shoulders, I went straight for my relatively new Canon G5. (I told my wife that this was exactly why I needed such an expensive tool/toy.)

As soon as I gathered the camera up, I stalled out, sitting on the front porch, fingering the lens cap, trying to figure out some approach that wouldn't end up with my seeming like a patronizing middle class liberal.

This is one of the great problems of photography: trying to convince someone to let you "turn them into art." If people think you're going to be ironic, then they're not going to put up with you and your expensive cameras and your "refined" visual sensibilities.

I ended up getting Pablo to break the ice.

Eric was more than willing to discuss his ink, which was more involved than the "lonely." It told an entire narrative of his former gang affiliations and incarceration. But when we got down to it, his back was really the piece de la resistance. But he did ask what it was for. My answer was kind of lame, but maybe not.

"I just like to record all the cool things I see." Then I added, "I teach intro to photography," which seemed to help.

Ultimately we got down to brass tacks. "Why lonely?" I asked.

"My name's Soledad," he said. "That's Spanish for lonely."

Right. Dumb question, Dr. Petersen.