Inspiration doesn't usually come from thin-air. At least, it rarely does for me.
My latest photography adventure/challenge is coming directly from one of my new “mentors”, Brandon Stanton, the creator of the very popular Street Photography blog Humans of New York.
When a friend of mine emailed me a link to the HONY site, within minutes I was in love. And within minutes after that, I had registered the domain www.humansofnelsonbc.ca.
Self-portrait. First shot I took before I asked my first stranger the vulnerable question, “May I take your photograph?”
And on my lunch break, that very same day, I grabbed my EM-5 and headed out the door with my heart pounding in my chest thinking about what I was about to do – ask a complete stranger, “May I take your photo?”
The first person said, “No thanks.”
But I didn't give up. The project was just too appealing for me to head back to the cave of safety.
The next person said “Sure.”
This is the first person that said “yes, you can take my photo.” I wonder if he had said no, if I wouldn't have had the guts to ask the next person…
Now I was hooked.
Then I asked this lady to take her photo through the shop window…
This young mom reluctantly agreed to have her photo taken through the shop window. I'm glad she did.
A few minutes later I asked this gentleman…
I've always admired this gentleman's style.
Jump ahead a month or so and I have 71 portraits. And I have started to get up the nerve to talk to people and get their story – which is sometimes used as a caption to the image.
“How long have you two been friends?”
“Well…it's been umpteen years.”
“What's kept your friendship strong for umpteen years?”
“Oh, I don't know. She's just so special to me.”
“What's the best thing about having a kid?”
“I get to see life through her eyes. It keeps me young.”
“What's the hardest part?”
“None of my friends have kids.”
We talked for nearly an hour. He told me many things, but I wrote down nothing. There was just no pause that would allow it. Plus, I wouldn't have wanted the difficult task of deciding which story to write – and which ones to leave out.
“I went to New York once. I was looking forward to seeing all the whacky people. We all hear how different the folks are out there. So I thought, ‘Bring on the crazy!'. And sure I saw this guy in a skirt playing the harp. But I see that kind of stuff at home on Baker Street too.”
Seen in Nelson BC
“Someone from worked dropped him off at my door. The guy didn't want him, and told me to drop him off at the SPCA if I didn't want him. I thought the dog was ugly at first, with his goggly eyes and crooked tail. And he was a little shit. He crapped on my bed!”
“So why did you keep him?'
“He makes me laugh everyday. I've had him for 5 years now. He's awesome.”
“I've seen a lot of communities ruined by progress.”
“What's the answer?”
“I don't know. But I think it has to start with affordable housing.”
“The end is nigh. Don't be afraid. The Spirit will carry us home.”
Me: “How long have you two been homeless?”
Left: “We're not homeless! We're travellers. We both left when we were 15 years old. She's 17 and I'm 21.”
Me: “What's been one of your best moments since you left?”
Right: “When we got close enough to the mountains that I knew we were just about to make our new home in the wilderness. I just became overwhelmed with joy. I rolled down the window and yelled ‘I'M FUCKING FREE!'”
Me: “What kinds of reactions do you get from other people – being so young and by yourselves, not knowing what tomorrow will bring.”
Left: “We made a choice to live this lifestyle. So many people we meet and see in the cities are slaves. Slaves to their jobs, slaves to their debt, slaves to their stuff. We are free of all that. People say they are inspired by us, that they wish they could have what we have.”
Right: “And we know some people pity us or look down on us. But that's silly. The travelling community is pretty big – and most of us are good people living life this way by choice. Unfortunately there are bad travellers out there too – and they give our lifestyle a bad name.”
Me: “What's the worst part about travelling.”
Left: “It was freezing last night.”
And every day I upload these photos to my SmugMug site, and onto the Humans of Nelson BC Facebook page – where I have a growing audience that seems to be enjoying the photos and stories as much as I am.
The plan (right now) is to take 1000 portraits of strangers in my small, eclectic town in rural British Columbia.
Through this work I'm learning a lot about street photography, portrait photography, humanity, and mostly about myself – and I hope to share some of my insights with you through this blog.