Traveler couple make stops at W.Va. during photo and book tour

By JIM BISSETT, The Dominion Post

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — It’s hard not to be intrigued, and even harder to resist, when Linda and Robert Kalman approach you.

There’s Linda, with her Midwestern friendliness and folksy friendliness.

And there’s Robert, with that 8 x 10 large-format camera: an old-fashioned image sensor that looks like it came from the aftermath of a Civil War battlefield.

Or, a pre-Depression bank, perhaps, for a formal board pose.

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Two questions, the same for anyone who pauses long enough to discuss, follow.

#1: Can we take your photo?

No. 2: How does it feel to be American?

In the meantime, “old-school” is the watchword of this husband and wife from New York’s Hudson Valley.

Since the 2021 uprising at the United States Capitol, they’ve traveled across vast swaths of the northeast and southeast with that big camera and those big questions.

Or, the one big question, anyway.

Which is why they were in Morgantown for two days recently. University City seemed like as good a place as any.

After the January 6 events in Washington, DC, they ventured to New York from their small town of Brewster, about 60 miles north.

They really hit the road after Juneteenth, doing 100 or better portraits and interviews of people from all walks of life in the metropolis.

Those who posed noted their answer to question n°2 in a register, in exchange for a free copy of the photograph that Robert has just taken.

However, they soon realized they needed to widen the narrative net.

“New York City is not ‘America,'” Linda said.

But there is a book in all this, they said.

This is what Robert and Linda are preparing: a book incorporating the photographs and written responses of their travels.

It’s an extension of what they’ve been doing in earnest for the past two decades after retiring from their “real” jobs, as Robert put it.

He was a primary school principal and she was a social worker.

Since then, they have done their work from the eclectic East Village of New York to the downtrodden villages of Nicaragua.

They also made stays in Europe.

Dog owners, members of the American Legion, people of color, and gay and lesbian people appeared in front of their lens and in their ledger.

Visit www.robertkalmanweb.com for a portfolio of photographs and more information about their work and projects.

Their current project, meanwhile, is not about passport stamps or stickers.

Rather, they’ll say it’s about moments: fleeting captures of the intellectual intimacy and physical vulnerability that comes from staring into a camera.

“I always make first contact,” Linda said.

“She’s so friendly and people don’t feel threatened,” her husband said.

Robert has been compelled to take photographs since 1959, when his parents gave him a boxed camera for his 10th birthday.

Besides New York, they have traveled to the Deep South, Pittsburgh and Wheeling in their current quest.

Last Friday, they lit up from Morgantown to the Martinsburg area in the Eastern Panhandle.

To date, Robert and Linda said, these responses to the ledger have been free of political rancor.

In fact, most are quite open and optimistic, they said, even invoking an American ideal from past generations.

“One person wrote that being American to him meant ‘being comfortable in a state of change,'” Robert said. “I was impressed.”

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Angela C. Hale