There’s a group on flickr called 100 strangers. When I first came upon it a while back, I was all “Oh I don’t need to do the challenge, because I already photograph strangers.” But I realized I’m not actually doing it. If I have my ipod, I just zone into my own little world, and when I see someone I’d like to photograph, I can’t be bothered to pull myself out of that space. It feels like just too much effort to bother.
So last week I decided I wanted to do the challenge after all. On Thursday I took my new Yashica Mat downtown, with the goal of photographing at least a few strangers. I really struggled with the slowing down and waiting (I think I’ve mentioned before that patience is not my strong point), but I stuck it out and ended up meeting some new people.
The first was Daryl. I saw him when he was laying two red towels on the sidewalk in front of a fire hydrant. I approached as he attached an orange balloon the hydrant, to ask what he was doing, and our conversation became quite drawn out.
He was laid off from Skyjack more than a year ago, and plays a pipe to help fill the time using the set-up of towels and balloons and other small items as a circle of protection. He said it’s been a struggle. While we spoke, someone chucked a lit cigarette butt at his balloon and it popped. He shrugged when I expressed sympathy over the loss of the balloon – he had more in his bag.
I actually shot four frames of him, and I left and came back in the middle of those frames. I just knew I hadn’t gotten the shot I wanted yet. He was pretty much constantly on the move every time I started looking through the Yashica’s viewfinder so it was really hard for me to focus. This was the shot I wanted (although it’s a bit underexposed – my next purchase will be a handheld lightmeter). I wanted to show his amazing blue eyes, and before this shot he wouldn’t look at the camera or make eye contact with me.
This should be a picture of Cara, but I screwed up loading the film, and didn’t wait for the arrow, so the single shot of her I made was actually made on the paper that pulls the film into place. Somehow I doubt that counts.
Despite that error, I love the way the Yashica Mat is changing my approach and process. There’s an irrevocable feeling that comes with the physical presence of film, good and bad, that I don’t get shooting digitally. I’m way more deliberate, and that deliberateness is really helped by the waist-level viewfinder. The ground glass already looks like a photograph, except that its relationship to reality is severed because the image is reversed left-to-right. Also, it takes me so long to focus that I can wait out discomfort, and if I miss a moment, I just wait for another one to come along.
This is Dirt. She started our conversation by asking about my camera. I told her about my 100 strangers project and she was very willing, but I could see she didn’t want to make eye contact with me or the camera.
This is Bruce. He followed Dirt here, because she used to live here, so they stopped for a stay. She and Bruce have been travelling around the country, and soon will be setting off back out west. They made such beautiful music that I didn’t want to leave; I wanted to just follow them around the country listening to their music.
Adam doesn’t go to school, but Megan and Amanda were both on spares from school. They sat patiently like that while I focused and focused and focused. Amanda, the blonde, joked about being discovered for America’s Next Top Model.