The Lollipop Photo, 1961
Photo by Ina Jean Stovall Garner, 1961
“I got the picture I wanted, but the public wasn’t ready for it.”
My aunt, Jean Garner, was and still is, a woman who marched to her own band, and thought beyond society’s proscribed social mores.
Imagine, if you will, this lollipop photo being published in 1961’s United States, never mind being in the public realm of the South, in Amarillo, Texas.
“Anyway,” Jean continued, “ you know I was a member of the Amarillo Photo Society for many years and we met every two weeks. We had to take pictures in the two weeks, develop the film, and make two 8 x 10 or two 11x 14 prints to show at each meeting. This was in the form of a contest which each member voted on and received points according to how many members voted on their print. at the end of each year we would have a party and the member with the most points...would win a small trophy or certificate. Oh what fun!”
During one of the two week periods the assignment for the photo club members was to photograph people of different ethnic races doing something together. My uncle, S.O. Garner, owned a contracting and construction company in Amarillo. His lead foreman was an African-American man that we only knew as “Heavy.” I remember Heavy as a large, gregarious man, and he was highly regarded by my aunt and uncle. In talking with my aunt this week she revealed that Heavy would often be invited to eat dinner with the family. That, in itself, a black man eating dinner at a white family’s home in the early 1960’s South, was stepping out of society’s idea of “normal” social interactions.
But the assignment was clear. My aunt and uncle often went to Heavy’s house and since he had several children, Jeanie had the perfect platform for the Photo Society’s assignment. My cousin, Sharon, was to be one of the subjects of Jean’s assignment.
“ I thought if I bought some kind of candy and took it over to Heavy’s house, maybe I could get some kind of a picture that I might like, “ Jean told me. “ I thought the kids might do something that would make a good picture."
"Sure enough, they all wanted to lick on the same big lollypop. The kids were pushing each other around and the lollypop fell on the floor and broke into about 10 pieces. They grabbed the pieces and started eating them.”
My aunt had another lollypop, and while the kids were having fun with the broken candy pieces, she had Sharon and Heavy’s oldest son to go into another room. Jean took several shots and was happy with the pictures she had taken.
She enlarged the picture to a 16X20 in her home darkroom and submitted the to the camera club. She didn’t win any awards for the photo. In fact, they were very reluctant to exhibit the picture.
She also submitted the lollipop photo the the Amarillo Globe News and was told that they could not print it for fear of creating an uproar of disapproval.
The Amarillo Globe News also ran regular snapshot contests throughout the year, as did many other newspapers around the country. Jeanie had won numerous awards for her photos from the Globe. National Geographic and Kodak were sponsors of some of these contests and in 1963 Jean was one of nine grand prize winners of the 24th Annual Newspaper National Snapshot Awards (NOT for the lollipop photo: Another story, perhaps?) She and the other eight winners were awarded $1000 and sent to Washington DC .
The original 16 x 20 print hung in Jean's house in Amarillo for a number of years, and is now displayed in Sharon's dental office in Houston, Texas.
And here's a funny sidebar: One day in Amarillo, a family in-law and her friend came to Jean's house. Upon seeing the lollipop photo on the wall, this woman remarked, "Oh that's a cute little boy…that's Ricky licking that sucker with Sharon!" My aunt was speechless.
I have to wonder if that woman's comment was uttered in shock, or disbelief, or from a perspective of absolute denial of what she was viewing? Or did she think that there were just lots of shadows on my face and it was a bad photo? We'll never know.
But I do know it's a daring photo. Yes, my Aunt Jean got the photo she wanted.
Jean said to me, "As far as I am concerned the picture is a success. It’s prejudiced people who don’t want to see it in print. I thought the subject and photo was a good idea, since it showed what the assignment asked for, which was to show different races interacting together. However, it seems that two kinds of different races, licking the same lollipop was just too much for the newspaper, the photo society, or the public in general. I never received any certificate of trophy for that picture from the photo society or the newspaper contest. I guess I was thinking before my time. I didn’t realize the backlash that the photo would produce in society."
And I wonder what reaction it would produce today. How far have we come as a society?
That question may never be answered.
Lake Buchanan, Texas
Me and my Aunt Jeanie, October 2011