Pushing the boundaries of a meager “hello,” I recently completed a project asking passersby if I may take their photograph. Despite plentiful rejections, the responses left an impact as great as the final prints, and the experience was indulging.
In the Short North, most people cooperated with my experiment, though some reactions were more eccentric than others. One man, thin and gnarled but with healthy blonde hair scuffed, agreeing to stop “only if it made me happy,” while an elderly group was so thrilled at the request that they later asked me to take a picture with their phone.
It wasn’t until the second attempt that my compositions began to shine. My eye for the type of person interested in being captured on camera sharpened, and I felt comfortable taking the time to properly set up the shots.
What makes the pictures interesting is that the subjects engage the viewer. This was not “snap and run” street photography. A series of factors aligned for the photograph to be possible, the most important that the subjects acknowledged my presence. We are still strangers, yet we share a brief moment in time that leaves an impression within our memories.
Who are the people looking back through the camera lens? A construction worker bothered by my disturbance but at the same time secretly grateful to take a moment’s pause; a skateboarder with his possessions sprawling on the ground and a pair of friends asking me to take their picture. My subjects presented themselves genuinely and in their natural environment. Through my presence, I documented our brief interaction.
Perhaps the viewer’s bigger question remains “why?”
These images are stories about people, but in a way they are really reflections of myself. My actions brought together the identities of these individuals, bound together only by the fact that they are strangers who caught my eye. I have their portraits, but I will never know how their lives were impacted by the experience. Were they flattered? Annoyed? Did they share the story with anyone later that day?
Through my presence, I documented our brief interaction and created a ripple in time that can never be undone; I will never know more than their appearance.