I took a photography class at LSU. The subject of final project was open. We could shoot anything. I decided to shoot street portraits. Through that process, I discovered several things.
1. Almost everybody is approachable.
2. People trust me with their image.
3. I can make people forget about the camera and smile.
4. I enjoy making people smile.
5. I enjoy capturing that moment.
6. Pictures of people smiling make other people feel good.
I have been shooting street portraits ever since. As you can imagine, I have also driven my friends and family crazy by constantly putting a camera in their face. I recently started shooting studio portraits.
My wife, Karen, is a bead artist. She creates incredible pieces of jewelry by weaving seed beads. Many of our vacations revolve around bead retreats. This is where bead artists gather for about three days to take master classes and share their knowledge. I usually go with her. We will usually arrive a couple of days early and stay a couple of days after. On those days we will travel together. However, when she goes to the retreat, I go out exploring on my own.
I also love to explore different cities. I frequently have photo opportunity starting points, but I rarely have a planned agenda. I like to walk around and I frequently use public transportation. I pretty much talk to everyone I come in contact with. If you are sitting next to me on the subway, we will usually have a conversation until one of us gets off. It’s funny how most people are content to just sit there. But, as I mentioned, everyone is approachable. It’s very rare that I get a cold shoulder. Most people are more than happy to talk to me, this guy with a camera and a funny southern accent. I find everyone I talk to fascinating. They give me tips on where to go and who see. They send me to places that are not on the tourist maps.
When I see someone who looks interesting, who does not appear to be going somewhere fast, I ask them if I can take their photo. I tell them I am a street photographer. I take photos of strangers I meet on the street, to post the photos on my website. They frequently tell me “no.” That’s when I show them some of my photos on my phone. They usually say, “Wow, those are really good.” I tell them I do it for fun and it’s free. At this point they stare thinking about it. I explain to them, in my best southern accent, that I am really good at it and this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. After a little more back and forth, I am directing the shot. It’s very rare that I don’t make them laugh.
The process usually ends with more discussion about where they are from and what they do. I volunteer that info about myself and give them my card. They shake my hand, pat me on the back, or give me a hug and say, “That was fun! Thanks so much. You made my day.” And that makes my day. I them move on to the next person. I meet lots of very interesting and cool people. I can usually lift their spirits. For a brief moment they seem to forget about the world around them and laugh. That’s when I shoot. I get some great portraits.
I stay in touch with many of these people through Facebook. Some I connect with when I return to some of these destinations.
I immerse myself into a new city by wandering around, talking to strangers, taking their photos and lifting their spirits. It’s lots of fun and very rewarding.
Frequently people are very self critical about their appearance. There's gap in the way people see themselves and the way other people see them. The number one reply to my photo request is, “ I don’t take good photos.” I tell them, “That’s because I have never taken your photo.” Many people tell me that the portrait I took is the best photo they have ever taken. Many turn into Facebook profiles. Perhaps photography can close the gap and make people see themselves the way I, and others see them, which is beautiful.
That's why I do what I do.