Lost Project: Woodruff Park Chess

As a kid in Atlanta, Georgia I remember rushing with my mom to catch the bus. Every weekday that route included crossing Woodruff Park in downtown Atlanta. My mom would drag me behind her as we made our way to the stop. While she worried about making the bus, my eyes wandered at the characters and activities taking place in the park: Homeless people, college students, preachers, drunks, pigeons, and several games of chess being played, the park's main attraction. 

 Woodruff Park Chess Court. Atlanta, GA. 

Woodruff Park Chess Court. Atlanta, GA. 

Years went by. I grew up, learned about cameras, and returned to document what I had seen. After all of those years, nothing had changed. I walked in and pointed my camera, only to get yelled at by a stranger: "Hey, hey! He's taking photos of you!" The next thing I knew, I had people yelling at me from several directions, as I tried to explain myself. I quickly retreated from the park and thought I'd better something else.

 Two Pigeons Center Frame. Woodruff Park Chess Court. Atlanta, GA. 

Two Pigeons Center Frame. Woodruff Park Chess Court. Atlanta, GA. 

I spent a few days working on another project, but I could not get the park out of my mind. So I returned. This time I had a different approach. I spent a few days just hanging around with my camera on my shoulder, chatting with the regulars and watching the chess games. As time went on, I slowly introduced my camera. Within a few days people started to allow me to explore the games and characters within the park.

 This was my first fly on the wall experience.

My biggest takeaway from this story is the need to be patient when approaching a new story or subject. Don't go in camera blazing. Take your time, breathe and make some images!

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Demetrius Freeman is a freelance Visual Journalist, who most frequently covers the metro section of The New York Times. For two years, he was a photographer for New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio. His work has been published in CNN, The New York Times, Newsweek, The Tampa Bay Times, and ProPublica. Demetrius has participated in several workshops and seminars including The Mountain Workshop, The Atlanta Photojournalism Seminar, The New York Times Portfolio Review, The Missouri Photo Workshop, and is an alumni of The Eddie Adams Workshop XXVII. He also supports and contributes in photography volunteer work and provide mentorship to high school photography students. Learn more and send him a note through his website, or follow him on Instagram @demetriusfreeman.