In 1990 and 1992 I made this series of portraits of individuals more than seventy years old and living independently in and around Durham, North Carolina. The attached texts were written by Nicholas Sholley from interviews he conducted with each person. My portraits were published in 1997 by W. W. Norton in Old and On Their Own with additional photographs by Thomas Roma of elderly in Brooklyn, New York, and text by Robert Coles.
Herbert Andrews was born in 1896 on a farm outside Chapel Hill, North Carolina. He was one of fifteen children. His father ran a general store, and his mother took care of the children. She died when Herbert was seven.
Herbert started going to work after his mother died, sometimes helping his father, but most often working on his own outside the home for small wages. He stopped going to school entirely in the fifth grade.
After leaving home, Herbert went to Durham to find work and started making a living as a tailor. In 1918, he married Myrtle Horner. For fifty years, he owned and operated his own tailoring business on Parish Street in downtown Durham. He and Myrtle had a son and a daughter. In 1992, only Herbert survives.
Two years ago, he left his shop, gave seventeen thousand dollars worth of clothes to the Salvation Army, and moved to the Heart of Durham Motel, where he runs a much smaller version of his shop that also serves as his bedroom. Despite arthritis that has crippled his hands, he continues to mend and make clothes every day. He sends letters to anyone who will read them, filled with his vision of the word of God — a daily regimen that he never neglects. Herbert writes on both sides of eleven-by-fourteen inch paper, with barely a space between lines. Often Herbert requires two months to squeeze one letter to completion.
Herbert is photographed in 1990 in his downtown shop, months before giving most of his stock away. (written in 1992)