People are my favourite photography subjects. There are so many interesting and beautiful human beings in the world and I can’t tell you the number of times I see someone on the street and think, “I would LOVE to take their picture.”
And so I begin this new project – The 100 Strangers Project. (I first read about this idea here) I take pictures of people all the time for my work, but I really want to step outside my comfort zone and ask strangers if I can take their picture. This is a challenge for me because I can be a bit shy sometimes and I get nervous that I will make people feel uncomfortable, or maybe I will feel awkward if someone says no. But I want to conquer this fear!
I learn something new with every picture I take. I am positive this project will turn me into a better portrait photographer, and of course I’ll get to meet some really cool people.
Here we go!
1. Fernando: I actually took this man’s picture back in 2013 when we were in Floripa for a visit. He sells jewellery at one of the beaches here and is always very friendly. Since we had spoken with him a bit about his work and life, I felt a little more confident asking him for his picture(okay, Nuni asked him, but I didn’t know much Portuguese back then!). He seemed really happy about it, and I love the way the picture turned out. He was comfortable with the camera and that makes all the difference. A couple of years after I took the photograph, we went back to see him with a print of this photo. It was really special seeing his reaction.
2. Unfortunately I don’t remember this gentleman’s name, but to me he will always be the “Camarão, Senhora!” Guy. He sold shrimp and fish at the Farmer’s Market where we used to live and I always thought I’d like to photograph him because of his kind eyes and generous smile. On our last market day before we moved I brought my camera, and got my husband to ask him for a picture, because I was too shy. He seemed a little shy too, but I was thankful he complied. Such a sweet man.
3. Brittany: I’m happy to say Brittany is not a stranger to me anymore. She is a dear friend to me now and she has taught me so much in the short time I have known her. She is a beautiful soul who positively radiates gratitude, peace and joy. A mutual friend introduced us and on that same day I asked if I could take her picture. She was more than willing and such an amazing model – she just exudes confidence and has the loveliest smile. Obrigada amiga 🙂
4. Rosario: I met this Argentinian beauty at the Lagoa Craft Market. She’s a traveler, surfer and jewellery maker. I enjoyed hearing about her life and her work. She spoke basic English so it was easy for me to explain my project and request a photo. She agreed but told me I could only take ONE picture, so I had to make it count. I love her dreads.
5. Renan: The instant I saw Renan at the craft fair I knew I wanted to photograph him – his afro was calling to me. I was super nervous, as we hadn’t spent any time talking to him at his stall, but my friend Kaila did the talking, and he happily agreed. I’m so glad she was there to give me that extra push, because I am so happy with how his portrait turned out.
6. Carolina: From Paraguay, all dressed in turquoise. She spoke English well and was a lovely, lively lady. She explained that each piece of jewellery she made was like one of her children and she only charged money in order to pay the bills! She seemed to enjoy her little photo session – I know I did!
7. Peter: I met Peter a month or two prior to the date this photo was taken, when I stopped at his jewellery table and we had a little conversation. He is such a kind man. Because of this previous interaction I felt confident asking him for his photo. He didn’t speak any English so I said my whole shpiel in Portuguese, and he agreed! I felt pretty proud of myself.
8. James: I met this beautiful man in South Africa in 2008. We were both volunteering at a clinic for AIDS patients. He was a regular volunteer, and I just dropping in for the day along with the rest of my team. I spoke to him for some time about his life and was amazed by his gentleness and compassion despite the hardships he had endured. I love this portrait I took of him. He is special person I will never forget.
My interaction with Alexandra took place at a bus station. I was waiting for my bus when I saw her sitting on a bench. I immediately knew that I wanted to take her picture, but I was nervous. I was by myself with no one to encourage me but my own inner voice. I first considered the safety aspect of it(I have had two cameras stolen in the past) and then the comfort level for her – I probably wouldn’t want to have my photograph taken in a public place full of people I didn’t know. But I knew I would regret it if I didn’t at least ask. So after quite a few moments of walking around building up courage, I approached her. I said, in Portuguese, “Hi, how are you? I just wanted to tell you that you have beautiful eyes! I’m a photographer, and I’m doing a personal project of photographing people I don’t know. I noticed you and I would like to take your photo, if you want!” At first she was taken aback – I think she was pleased about it but also very shy about having her photo taken. She hmmed and hawed about it for a while. I kept telling her she didn’t have to, there was no pressure, but in the end she agreed. Three quick snaps and we were done. I am so glad I did it, because I absolutely love the photo. For being nervous she did a great job of looking confident and relaxed. I felt empowered afterwards and proud of myself for stepping outside of my comfort zone. I am loving this project! I can’t wait for the next stranger!
This lovely lady is the owner of my favourite consignment shop(Brechó) in Floripa, Brecho de Marte. It’s on the way to my bus stop, so I pop in there frequently. Diane is always very friendly and helpful and on this day, which happened to be my birthday, I was in the mood to take a Stranger Portrait, and she cheerfully agreed.
I met Breno at the Lagoa Craft Market. He was selling bracelets, earrings and other jewellery he had made. Right away I noticed that he was a very sweet, soft spoken man. He showed me how he made the bracelets, and talked about how much he enjoyed creating things. Halfway through our interaction I asked, “Qual é teu nome?”(What is your name?) He looked at me for a moment with bewilderment. He said, “You took those words right out of my mouth. I opened my mouth to ask those exact words and you said them.” We talked about how important it is to be kind to people, even and especially people we don’t know. Our world is going a bit crazy but many good people exist, and we need to connect with each other. Breno said some very kind words to me and I felt like we bonded over that short time. During our conversation I thought, “I want to remember this connection. I’m going to ask him for a photo.” I then explained my project and he was very willing to take part.
With Breno I learned something. While this project is meant to improve my portraiture skills and feel comfortable approaching strangers, it’s about more than that. It’s about connecting with “strangers,” who really are only strangers until you start having a conversation. It’s about acknowledging and connecting with other human beings. It is one of my personal goals to try and acknowledge people more, even if it’s just looking at people in the eye and smiling at people I pass on the street.
Of course, we have to be safe and cautious when we speak to people we don’t know. But let’s not allow fear to rule. Let’s connect with our fellow human beings. You might even meet a gem like Breno.
I sat beside Lucas on a plane from Newark, New Jersey to São Paulo, Brazil. I said hello as I sat down, and noticed he was watching a movie. About ten minutes in, he asked me if I was Brazilian(must have been my flawless accent) and we started a conversation. We discovered we had many things in common. I am a Canadian living in Brazil; he is a Brazilian living in Canada. We are both married with two small children. Both portrait photographers. Both Christians. We had so much in common it was almost weird. But it made me think – we probably have a lot in common with most, if not every stranger we come across. We are all human beings, with joys and struggles and experiences worth sharing. We just need to be brave enough to ask, and to tell. I had made a friend by the end of my flight, and it filled me with such happiness to have connected with another stranger. I can feel this project evolving. At the beginning, it was about seeing a stranger I want to photograph and asking them for a picture. Now, it is about having sincere interactions with strangers and then taking a picture to document the exchange. It makes me even more excited to continue with this project.
Since then we have gotten together several times, and I am so enjoying getting to know her. I took this portrait of her yesterday, and although the idea for this project is to take a photo of a stranger at the time of meeting, I didn’t have my camera on me when we met. Thank you Michelle for being a part of my project; for being open to a conversation with a stranger.
Come back soon for more!