Famed poet/author Maya Angelou died on Wednesday at the age of 86. She had ties to Stockton in her mother Vivian “Lady Baxter” who was a longtime resident of the city from 1967 until her death in 1991 at the age of 79.
Often I’ll have an assignment to photograph a celebrity or public figure, but it’ll be at a concert or lecture type event where I have the same or similar view as the audience. I’m not introduced to the person I’m there to shoot, and most often they won’t even know I’m there. I photographed Angelou when she visited her mother in 1990. I went with a reporter, and it was a one-on-one interview with the poet.
I wasn’t big on poetry back then, and I had never heard of Angelou at the time. She was eloquent and gracious and a compassionately thoughtful woman. I don’t recall the details of the interview but I remember the rich deep voice, and there was a poetic cadence to even just her conversational voice. She had a wonderful sense of humor and a luscious laugh.
It was dark in her mother’s living room, where the interview took place, with light coming through a single window. The light’s angle came from her extreme right, nearly backlighting her. It was almost like skim lighting where the light “skims” off of the subject. I could have used a flash to illuminate more of the scene, but it would have eliminated the velvety tone of her beautifully dark skin and ruined the thoughtful, introspective feeling that the deep shadows brought to the photo.