Tag Archive: shoe

Boot Black, No. 2

Driving by, you just might miss “Jack’s Polished Act”… a tiny shack floating in the middle of a busy and enormous car wash parking lot on Pico and Beverly Glen in Los Angeles.  The shop consists of just two chairs on top of a big drawer full of tools, and the owner ain’t Jack… his name’s Billy.

Billy started shining shoes at 9 years old on a street corner in Oklahoma. Billy knew exactly what Boot Black was when I mentioned my Boot Black project to him, and he agreed that it’s an interesting profession rich in history that would make for a great photo book.  Then Billy educated me a bit: he said you can call him a Boot Black or a Shine Man, but if he were still shining shoes at a barbershop, then you’d call him a Porter.  Sometimes he’s also referred to as a Dye Man.


Two customers came for a shine the few minutes I was there.  Billy works fast, and he used old socks for shine cloths.




Apparently a shoe shine today at Jack’s Polished Act will set you back six bucks.


After his last shine, we sat down to take a break and share some shoe-shining stories.  He told me about his family of 7 kids and 14 grandkids – one son was a photographer but sadly passed away.  We talked about the old days, the hot weather, the kindness of people, and staying active into your older years.  All the while, the nearby car wash employee’s are watching us and yelling at him: “don’t break the camera!”


As I was leaving, Billy said “you’re very kind.”  I said that I would be back, wearing my boots…

…and expecting a great shine and good stories 🙂



Boot Black

Giovanni Nicola Meola was born in Teora, Italy in 1890 and arrived at Ellis Island March 14th 1904 with his parents.  He was only 14 years old, and his occupation was listed as “Boot Black” – a person who shines and polishes shoes.  Nine years later he married Filomena Melillo and proceeded to have ten kids – the ninth was my dad, Thomas John Meola.

My dad used to tell me stories of how he spent time as a kid during the depression at my grandfather’s store, a combination shoe shine shop and candy store in Newark, NJ… where my dad enjoyed giving free candy to poor kids and drinking wine with his dad in the back room next to the pot belly stove.  Maybe for this reason, I’ve always loved shoe shine guys – or any skilled laborer really.  I enjoy watching a person work in their surroundings, the tools they use, how they’ve perfected a technique… just as I like to watch artists sketch a drawing.

I’ve been planning on shooting a series of shoe shine shops and the men that run the joints… I’d like to think I’ll publish a book someday, titled “Boot Black” of course.  I’m experimenting with sepia for this project to lend it an old school warm and worn look.   First up is Minas, the shoemaker next door to my photo studio.


Minas is such a character… he’s Armenian and arrived in the states 13 years ago via Moscow.  Minas watches my back and my shop, takes Fed Ex deliveries when I’m not there, makes sure that my shop is locked up at the end of the day, and helps me move heavy furniture.  Most importantly, he tells me jokes every time I see him.





A few tools of the trade…


“Christina, what are you still taking pictures for?”


And then he sends me on my way with a joke…


Minas has such a thick accent, I only catch about 25% of what he’s saying.  Every time he tells me a joke, I laugh my butt off the whole time because I can’t even understand a word, but his delivery is priceless.