Alec Soth + Stacey Baker: This is what enduring love looks like

84,442 views ・ 2015-07-15

TED


Please double-click on the English subtitles below to play the video.

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Alec Soth: So about 10 years ago, I got a call from a woman in Texas,
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Stacey Baker,
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and she'd seen some of my photographs in an art exhibition
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and was wondering if she could commission me to take a portrait of her parents.
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Now, at the time I hadn't met Stacey, and I thought this was some sort of
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wealthy oil tycoon and I'd struck it rich,
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but it was only later that I found out
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she'd actually taken out a loan to make this happen.
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I took the picture of her parents,
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but I was actually more excited about photographing Stacey.
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The picture I made that day
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ended up becoming one of my best-known portraits.
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At the time I made this picture, Stacey was working as an attorney
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for the State of Texas.
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Not long after, she left her job to study photography in Maine,
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and while she was there, she ended up meeting
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the director of photography at the New York Times Magazine
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and was actually offered a job.
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Stacey Baker: In the years since, Alec and I have done
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a number of magazine projects together,
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and we've become friends.
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A few months ago, I started talking to Alec about a fascination of mine.
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I've always been obsessed with how couples meet.
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I asked Alec how he and his wife Rachel met,
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and he told me the story of a high school football game
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where she was 16 and he was 15,
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and he asked her out.
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He liked her purple hair.
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She said yes, and that was it.
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I then asked Alec if he'd be interested in doing a photography project
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exploring this question.
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AS: And I was interested in the question, but I was actually much more interested
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in Stacey's motivation for asking it,
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particularly since I'd never known Stacey to have a boyfriend.
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So as part of this project, I thought it'd be interesting
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if she tried to meet someone.
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So my idea was to have Stacey here go speed dating
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in Las Vegas on Valentine's Day.
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(Laughter) (Applause) (Music)
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SB: We ended up at what was advertised as the world's largest speed dating event.
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I had 19 dates
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and each date lasted three minutes.
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Participants were given a list of ice- breaker questions to get the ball rolling,
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things like, "If you could be any kind of animal, what would you be?"
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That sort of thing.
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My first date was Colin.
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He's from England,
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and he once married a woman he met after placing an ad for a Capricorn.
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Alec and I saw him at the end of the evening,
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and he said he'd kissed a woman in line at one of the concession stands.
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Zack and Chris came to the date-a-thon together.
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This is Carl.
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I asked Carl, "What's the first thing you notice about a woman?"
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He said, "Tits."
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(Laughter)
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Matthew is attracted to women with muscular calves.
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We talked about running. He does triathlons, I run half-marathons.
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Alec actually liked his eyes and asked if I was attracted to him, but I wasn't,
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and I don't think he was attracted to me either.
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Austin and Mike came together.
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Mike asked me a hypothetical question.
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He said, "You're in an elevator running late for a meeting.
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Someone makes a dash for the elevator.
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Do you hold it open for them?"
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And I said I would not.
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(Laughter)
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Cliff said the first thing he notices about a woman is her teeth,
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and we complimented each other's teeth.
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Because he's an open mouth sleeper,
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he says he has to floss more to help prevent gum disease,
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and so I asked him how often he flosses,
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and he said, "Every other day."
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(Laughter)
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Now, as someone who flosses twice a day,
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I wasn't really sure that that was flossing more
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but I don't think I said that out loud.
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Bill is an auditor,
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and we talked the entire three minutes about auditing. (Laughter)
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The first thing Spencer notices about a woman is her complexion.
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He feels a lot of women wear too much makeup,
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and that they should only wear enough to accentuate the features that they have.
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I told him I didn't wear any makeup at all
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and he seemed to think that that was a good thing.
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Craig told me he didn't think I was willing to be vulnerable.
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He was also frustrated when I couldn't remember my most embarrassing moment.
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He thought I was lying, but I wasn't.
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I didn't think he liked me at all, but at the end of the night,
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he came back to me and he gave me a box of chocolates.
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William was really difficult to talk to.
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I think he was drunk.
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(Laughter)
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Actor Chris McKenna was the MC of the event.
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He used to be on "The Young and the Restless."
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I didn't actually go on a date with him.
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Alec said he saw several women give their phone numbers to him.
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Needless to say, I didn't fall in love.
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I didn't feel a particular connection with any of the men that I went on dates with,
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and I didn't feel like they felt a particular connection with me either.
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AS: Now, the most beautiful thing to me --
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(Laughter) -- as a photographer is the quality of vulnerability.
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The physical exterior reveals a crack in which you can get a glimpse
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at a more fragile interior.
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At this date-a-thon event, I saw so many examples of that,
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but as I watched Stacey's dates and talked to her about them,
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I realized how different photographic love is from real love.
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What is real love? How does it work?
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In order to work on this question and to figure out how someone goes
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from meeting on a date to having a life together,
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Stacey and I went to Sun City Summerlin,
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which is the largest retirement community in Las Vegas.
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Our contact there was George, who runs the community's photography club.
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He arranged for us to meet other couples in their makeshift photo studio.
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SB: After 45 years of marriage, Anastasia's husband died two years ago,
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so we asked if she had an old wedding picture.
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She met her husband when she was a 15-year-old waitress
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at a small barbecue place in Michigan.
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He was 30.
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She'd lied about her age.
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He was the first person she'd dated.
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Dean had been named photographer of the year in Las Vegas two years in a row,
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and this caught Alec's attention,
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as did the fact that he met his wife, Judy,
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at the same age when Alec met Rachel.
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Dean admitted that he likes to look at beautiful women,
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but he's never questioned his decision to marry Judy.
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AS: George met Josephine at a parish dance.
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He was 18, she was 15.
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Like a lot of the couples we met, they weren't especially philosophical
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about their early choices.
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George said something that really stuck with me.
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He said, "When you get that feeling, you just go with it."
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Bob and Trudy met on a blind date when she was still in high school.
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They said they weren't particularly attracted to each other
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when the first met.
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Nevertheless, they were married soon after.
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SB: The story that stayed with me the most
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was that of George, the photography club president, and his wife, Mary.
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This was George and Mary's second marriage.
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They met at a country-western club in Louisville, Kentucky called the Sahara.
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He was there alone drinking and she was with friends.
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When they started dating, he owed the IRS 9,000 dollars in taxes,
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and she offered to help him get out of debt,
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so for the next year, he turned his paychecks over to Mary,
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and she got him out of debt.
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George was actually an alcoholic when they married, and Mary knew it.
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At some point in their marriage, he says he consumed
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54 beers in one day.
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Another time, when he was drunk, he threatened to kill Mary
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and her two kids,
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but they escaped and a SWAT team was called to the house.
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Amazingly, Mary took him back,
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and eventually things got better.
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George has been involved in Alcoholics Anonymous
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and hasn't had a drink in 36 years.
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(Music)
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At the end of the day, after we left Sun City,
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I told Alec that I didn't actually think
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that the stories of how these couples met were all that interesting.
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What was more interesting
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was how they managed to stay together.
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AS: They all had this beautiful quality of endurance,
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but that was true of the singles, too.
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The world is hard, and the singles were out there
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trying to connect with other people,
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and the couples were holding onto each other
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after all these decades.
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My favorite pictures on this trip were of Joe and Roseanne.
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Now, by the time we met Joe and Roseanne,
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we'd gotten in the habit of asking couples if they had an old wedding photograph.
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In their case, they simultaneously pulled out of their wallets
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the exact same photograph.
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What's more beautiful, I thought to myself,
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this image of a young couple who has just fallen in love
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or the idea of these two people holding onto this image for decades?
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Thank you.
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(Applause)
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