I met a woman who I came to know in rapid-fire time and knew I had to tell her story. This project is about a woman, who had a limited pool of choices but made the best ones she could. She wanted a different life but had no clue as to how to go about it. I liked her and I wanted to honor her. I hope I have conveyed the goddess in her mythic dream, as well as the human being.
Her stage name was Serpentina in the traveling carnival sideshow called “Strange People”. She had lived a hard carny life on the road and wanted to go home to Iowa to her two young sons who lived with her mama. She showed me a small snapshot of the boys standing in a cardboard box and began to bawl. She thought if she had a better pitch card, which is a 4×6 postcard with her image on it, that she could find a higher paying carnival job and not only send more money home to her mama to care for the boys but perhaps save enough to go home. She saw the Diana camera around my neck and asked me to take her picture.
I photographed her for three days and returned each day with prints. She chose one, which I took to a print shop and had 500 pitch cards made. I returned later that day as the carnival was tearing down to leave town and gave her the cards. We didn’t exchange addresses and I don’t know how her story turned out.
The first day I met her was on the Midway of the Queen City Fair. I heard a man and woman screaming and then saw her run from a trailer. As a psychotherapist I was compelled to see if she needed help. She said she and her boyfriend had a fight and broke up the night before and that she had shaved off her long hair because that was what he loved most about her. She had just shown him what she did and he told her to go to hell.
We talked until she had to get ready for her first afternoon show. Her act was that of snake charmer, as old as time. It was a ritual, a dance between the snake, symbol of fertility and creative life force, and Serpentina who charmed him. The snake dance was her prayer to the spirits for escape into a mythic dream, where she was a goddess. Ever so briefly she wasn’t herself, she was whom she dreamed.
Springfield, Missouri, USA
By Leslie Brown