Talking People Through a Street Portrait

I have been a photographer now about as long as I have been a believer, and I have spent those 15-20 years trying to figure out how to combine both in a way that glorifies God. That tends to look different almost every day, and it did on this day once again. What draws me to photography is the ability to tell a story without words. Words are generally my weakness when it comes to telling a story (or just conversing with another person), but an image can transcend language, age, and culture. The difference at least in our culture is literally everyone has a camera, but few seem to know how to engage other people in a caring way.

And in comes Sunny. I was in Auburn on one of my favorite corners doing a photo walk of sorts (that means you walk around looking for something interesting to shoot, often it’s a person with some unique character, like Sunny). Problem is, every person with a camera who showed up before me just wanted to take Sunny’s photo and run, some, he explained, literally ran. No one was interested in telling his story. So I did what I always do before taking a photo of someone. I asked him (unless of course I’m trying to take candid street photography in which case the whole point is to not interact with your subject, here was a case of “street portrait” work). To my surprise, he said no. He asked me why I wanted to take his photo and I really didn’t have a good answer. This post is basically my answer to that question, but in the moment, I had nothing. I knew why, I wanted to tell his story, but I was thrown by his response and mentally froze.

So how do you convince someone you have never met before that you actually are interested in telling his story, and that no, you are not like everyone else who came before. I’m still not sure how to go about doing that, but we stood there and talked about life, faith, trains, writing, and music while college kids zipped by on the street and in their cars. It’s basically what I wanted to do in the first place. One thing I wish I had done at the time was take my own photo with Sunny. In a way I did, I’m right there in his sunglasses. Glad you too could meet Sunny as well, he was quite the character.

To answer my own question; how do you convince someone you care and aren’t there to just take their photo and run… you listen for 15-20 minutes and shoot for 15-20 seconds.

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