This is anecdote #1 from a new project I shot about cruise life in Alaska:
This is a photograph of our maid on the boat. Her name was Eunice. She is from Mozambique. We met on a boat in Alaska. Life is crazy. When she was a teenager she went to get a degree in hospitality in South Africa, then she found work on the boat, where she was offered a position as a maid, even with a degree. Which struck me as both sad and strange.
The rooms my travel buddy Kyle Johnson and I stayed in were near the bow of the boat, and we often saw Eunice cleaning the rooms along the narrow hallway leading to our berth as we made trips back for film, gear, and to put on our bathing suits. Early in the trip, as we passed Eunice in the hall, she would halt everything she was doing and ask us, as if Kyle and I were Grand Royalty, “was everything prepared to your satisfaction?”. We always emphatically, quizzically, uncomfortably replied “yes, of course”. We just wanted to make her happy. And prove we weren’t aristocracy. Because that made us uncomfortable. Though I’ve probably stayed in hundreds of hotel rooms, I never felt this close to being the arbiter of servitude, in a way that made me supremely uneasy. A couple days later, Kyle and I started putting up “do not disturb” signs on our doors, as a way to create less work for Eunice. We wanted no part of the weird class system on the boat, where we were doted upon like billionaires, though I imagine some people really got off on that.
Shortly after we hung up our door hangers, Eunice started to become noticeably colder to Kyle and I. We finally reasoned that she felt we didn’t trust her, especially because she knew we were photographers and had expensive equipment in our rooms. Eventually, I talked to Eunice halfway through the trip, explaining that neither Kyle or I were used to this level of service in our lives, that it felt jarring to us, and that we were simply trying to make less work for her. After a fascinating 20 minute conversation about her background, her education, her goals, and where she would like to travel in the world (NYC topped the list), she said she had to get back to work. I didn’t want to cut the moment short, so before she began cleaning the next room, I asked if I could take a portrait of her. After finishing the room she was cleaning, she met me outside on the deck for a few minutes and I took this photograph. I love this photograph. It might be my favorite from the trip; it certainly means the most to me. Though Eunice wears a maids uniform that alludes to her near-servitude to the ship, everything she represents- power, confidence, attitude, grace, and promise- is held above it, in her face.