A home, for someone doing the kind of work I was doing, is a place where people come to expect to find you. You cease to be an outsider who needs to explain repeatedly why you’re there, doing what you’re doing. When new people come around, the “regulars” vouch for your character and your right to be there. That often makes strangers more willing to accept and cooperate with your photographing, talking, and interviewing. You can hang around without being intrusive, see what happens, get to know people. I learned the importance of this familiarity when I was working at Thunderbird House. Actually, I had learned the lesson earlier. In Duck Valley I was always adding links to a chain — mainly new households, and friends and relatives of people I had already photographed.

Thunderbird House clients stayed for two months, but I worked there for two years while a steady stream of new people came and went. After a few months I realized that I was more comfortable at Thunderbird, more connected to the other people already there, than were any of the new clients just entering the program. I knew the ropes, the staff, and the other clients who were further along in the program. And they knew me; they expected me to talk with them, to ask questions, and to make photographs and return with prints for them to see and keep. This created an ease that I now realize was invaluable in allaying their suspicions and overcoming the reluctance new residents may have had.

Working on newspapers, I had learned how to walk into a strange place with people I’d never met and quickly create enough of a connection to make the photograph that the assignment form in my pocket called for. It could be delicate sometimes. A stranger wanting to make a photograph for publication in a newspaper isn’t particularly welcome at a fire, an illness, a death in a family, or a lawsuit. Others are perfectly willing to be photographed, but are shy or self-conscious, awkward. This skill let me visually mimic the kind of knowledge and familiarity you have in a real home, the