Ansel Head’s father always smiled and spoke to people, even strangers. He used to tell his non-superior son that being cordial was a great joy in life because people always smile back and make the day brighter. It was an easy task to perform when growing up in the South; everybody acknowledged each other with a nod and smile. To fail to do so would raise antennas and create suspicion.

At Washington & Lee, gentlemen were required to speak to each other as they passed; but since most of the students were from the South, it proved to be no burden.

Folks in New York City think this tradition quaint. To acknowledge strangers when passing there might even be dangerous. Small wonder that they all scurry about wearing scowls on their faces.

As he grows older and bolder, Head experiments with cordiality where ever he goes. He has found Washington, DC to be a great Petr dish for smiling at strangers. Politicians always smile back; they can never tell if Head is a voter from the district. Some others smile back then do a double take as they pass, “Do I know this guy?” Others ignore him as if he were a pan handler seeking money and hurry along with a serious countenance easily recognized as, “I’m too important to be bothered by this chump.” Professional women can be dangerous; they carry pepper spray and any acknowledgement of their presence might be construed as sexual harassment. But occasionally a tourist from the South recognizes the gesture, smiles back, passes close by, and both parties enjoy a brighter day.

Head’s trusty Nikon seems to be attracted to smiling people. His Lightroom catalogue is full of such pictures. Many photographers like the shock value of distressed countenances as if that shows they are “artists” or something. Life to them is conflict, dispair, grievances, and shame. Not Head, he likes smiles because they keep him happy. 

Watching Remembering The Smiling South, a slide show in Head’s Photo Gallery, always brightens his day. When times are tough, he’s been known to put in his earphones, listen to Sweet Emma sing “Do Lord”, and smile back at all of the people smiling at him.

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