In last week’s post, Street Portraits: Talking with Strangers, we discussed the importance of talking with strangers. Beyond the studies that seem to show the benefits of talking with strangers, it can be helpful to engage in a friendly conversation if you are interested in taking their photo. Therefore, this week I decided to share a couple street portrait stories from my journal.
As with the one before, it’s not polished and wasn’t written with the intent to be shared. These are just reminders of random interactions and they happened to result in a photo. Well, on with the street portrait stories…
Meridian Hill Park
In Street Portraits: Talking with Strangers, I mentioned offering photos to the people you take photos of. The story below is a good example of why you might want to consider doing so. I provided several shots to the two men in the story. Over a year later, one of them contacted me and asked if I would be able to shoot his wedding. Unfortunately, since I was in Bulgaria at the time, I was unable to work with him. However, providing a photo is not only a nice gesture of gratitude, but you never know what else it could lead to in the future.
I decide to sit in Meridian Hill Park for awhile. A woman is doing Tai Chi by the cascading fountain. A man is playing guitar next to the Buchanan statute and gets interrupted by a bicyclist looking for a conversation. After 20 minutes I get up and grab some photos of the guitarist, who is now alone and snacking on a banana. As I step back for a better composition a man sitting on some steps waves me over while taking a drag from a joint. A younger man is quietly sitting next to him laughing as he writes on his phone. He has a Joker backpack at his feet. I don’t say it, but I like it. It’s an image from Batman: The Killing Joke. I like anything Batman. When I approach the smoker asks what kind of photos I take.
“Street. People. Landscape. Culture. Everything.”
“So naked men and stuff too,” he says with a straight face.
“Ok. You said everything.” He laughs between hits.
We continue talking. He has a camera. Needs to get it fixed and get some film. He asks if I’m good at photography.
“Yeah. Alright.” I show him photos from Instagram. He likes the portraits and the photo of the students at the lake in Siem Reap. The lake that used to be a mine field.
He asks where I live. I explain a bit. Bulgaria for now. Just visiting family here. I ask what he does.
“So, naked men and stuff,” I respond with a smirk.
He laughs. I ask what his passion is.
“Are you good?”
“Yeah. I can cook up something.” He shows me a photo on the home screen of his phone, glazed ribs with mac and cheese.
“You going to open a restaurant?”
“You got money?”
“You fund me and we will open a restaurant. I’ll make us both money.”
His family is originally from Georgia. He was born and raised in DC though. 56 years old. No commitments. No kids. No woman. No man. He does what feels right to him. I respect that. I realize that he’s probably the type people think of when I give a response regarding my less than structured career goals. Of course that’s before they impart their infinitely unoriginal wisdom. Meh, fuck ’em.
Before I go I ask for some photos. They are more than happy to oblige.
I pass a man with face piercings, an impressive beard, and full sleeve tattoos on both arms. He’s sitting on a small makeshift bench in front of a tattoo shop. In Bulgarian, I say, “hello” and I ask him for a photo.
He responds in Bulgarian, “Why?”
I ask if he speaks English because my Bulgarian is bad. He says, “a little.”
I tell him I’m a photographer. I enjoy taking photos of interesting people. He still seems suspicious. He asks if I’m with the press. If I want to take his photo to show people he’s a freak.
“Fuck, no. Just a photographer.”
He says, “Okay.” I take a few photos and then sit to talk a bit. He owns the tattoo shop with his brother. They are originally from a small village in Northern Bulgaria. He’s been doing tattoos for over 20 years. His beard has been growing for over 10. He asks where I’m from. I tell him California, since it’s the last place I lived in the U.S. He collects license plates and has several from there. He puts them up in his shop.
Several people pass by. They all greet him and stop to chat. Some sit a while. He seems particularly popular with some young children and their parents.
I ask for a few more shots. And he says, “Sure.”
I return the next day with a few printed photos. He likes them and says he’ll put them up in the shop. He asks if I want to see his collection.
Almost all of the walls of his shop are completely filled with license plates from around the world. Mostly from the U.S. He has boxes of more plates. The license plate free wall has photos of him and his brother over the years. Tattoo conventions and other events.
We head back outside and he offers me a seat. He pours me a gin and tonic, insisting I have drink with him. We chat for a bit and, just like the day before, he gets a steady flow of visitors and passersby. They all greeting him with a smile. I finish my drink, thank him and tell him I’ll stop by next time I’m in town.
Poor writing aside, hopefully these stories have somewhat inspired you to get out create some street portrait stories of your own. Consider writing them down as well. Sometimes small conversations can be surprisingly profound in their ability to help us recognize the importance of the little things in life. Quickly writing down conversations and experiences, can help you consciously focus on learning to appreciate some of the seemingly mundane and/or commonplace moments in life.
Feel free to reach out on Instagram, @ted_stanton_photography, the comments section, or the contact page.
And check out my free ebook, 5 Unique Photo Challenges, for some inspiration. Sign up for the Photography Insight Journal using the form at the bottom of the page to receive the link to download a copy.