In December 2012, I started a personal project called 100 Strangers. I found out about this project on Flickr. The idea is to take at least 100 photographs of 100 people you don't know and ask for permission to take their photo. Part two of this challenge is to find out something about them, who are they and what is their life like. I was immediately intrigued and then I was hit with a sense of fear. It was that sense of fear that cause me to decide to do it. This past August (2013) I completed the project. Yes, I photographed 100 strangers. It was an incredible experience, I'm glad I did it. In this blog post I want to share what I learned and to show some of my favorite images.
5 Lessons Learned
- Fear: This is the biggest issue to overcome. I found that, being told no, is not what makes you nervous about approaching strangers, it's what that person thinks. I decided early on, it doesn't matter what they think. I did it in-spite of the fear, which never goes away, even when I approached my 100th stranger I was nervous about. I just fought through the fear. I must admit, it got the best of me sometimes. Yes I missed some great portrait opportunities. But I won more than I lost and by completing the project - I won the war.
- Say What? The next issue I need to address is what do I say? What I settled on was not to just ask a random stranger, instead, I would approach someone that had something interesting about them - that would be my opening line. I would introduce myself, tell them about the project, say what I find interesting about them, and asked to take their portrait. People love it when you compliment them, especially women. Just the slightest compliment generates the most authentic expressions.
- Professionalism: One thing I did was have some business cards printed up. A lot of times I would give them my card during the opening statement. That gives the impression that this guy is legitimate. Also, I always offered to send them a free copy of the image. Most people are leery of giving you there email address, that's why I used the business cards with my email address, so that they can contact me. From what I've discovered very few people contacted me to get a copy of the photo. There have been occasions where they gave me there card and I would send them a copy. Lastly, appearance is important as well. You have about 3 seconds to make a good first impression. With that in mind, I would make sure I didn't look sloppy.
- Patience: There have been several strangers who were on the fence. You can see their brains just turning as they tried to decided whether to do it or not. This is where patience is important, I didn't assume what they would say or use some Jedi mind trick. I would stand there and just smile and wait for an answer. If they paused to long or said something like "I don't know, how long will this take?" Then I would tell them it will only take a second or reinforce what I found interesting about them. I would never give up while in the midst of indecision. Most of the time they said yes. If they really struggled I would let them off the hook and just say thanks and move on.
- Conversation: I can't express home much I enjoyed conversing with the various strangers. I met a activist, artist, counselor, yoga instructor, nurse, cook, college student, waitress and a few models. I even met a guy how had a documentary about his life filmed. You can image the range of conversations, it was very interesting indeed.
These are just a few of the lessons/experiences I learned during this project. Now, let's take a look at some of the strangers I met. It was hard to choose ten, but here are my top ten stranger portraits (in no certain order) along with a description of the experience. You can see all 100 by clicking HERE!
Top Ten 100 Stranger Portraits
This image is the most sentimental, because it was my first stranger portrait. I saw Nicole at Klyde Warren Park and I thought she had an interesting hat. I introduced myself and explained the 100 Stranger project and asked if I could take her picture. Nicole is a Yoga instructor and she was about to lead a class and said I could photographer her while she did a few Yoga movements. While she was doing Yoga I took several pictures. I chose this one because of the wonderful smile on her face. Later I found her email address and sent her a copy of the images for her portfolio.
This is probably my favorite image capturing during the project. On my flight back to DFW from Winnipeg, CA, I had a 2.5 hour layover in Minneapolis-St Paul. I decided to get something to eat so I went to this bar and grill and Kiki was my waitress. Immediately the hair style caught my attention. I told her I loved her hair and that she has a great look. I asked if I could take her portrait and she said sure. I didn't want anything in the background, so I had her stand next to a white column near the bar. The catch light in her eyes is the huge window behinds, perfect window light. I noticed how comfortable she was in front of the camera and that she changed poses and expressions between shots. I asked if she models, she said yes. In fact, she has a photo shoot the next day. Kiki was working, so I didn't want to take up to much of her time, I did ask where she was from, she said Ethiopia. The meal at this restaurant wasn't very good, never has a bad meal been so worth it.
I saw Bob in Deep Ellum, playing his keyboard with one hand and singing a song. I asked Bob if I could take his portrait. He said yes. Bob gave me his website which is HisNameIsBob.com. Come to find out, Bob has a documentary film about him called “His Name Is Bob.” Articles have been written about him in the Dallas Morning News, chronicling his story. Bob is mentally challenged with a troubled past, abused by his mother and abandoned at an institution as a child. He was a heavy drinker and for a time he was homeless. The East Dallas community reached out to help him. His story was told in the 2010 indie documentary what has won awards on the festival circuit and was shown on DirecTV and Dish.
I saw Lori at the Nasher Sculpture Center. I didn't say anything to her at first and I almost left. I saw her with a camera phone, taking a picture of her son, who is 10 months old. I walked over and asked if I could take her picture for the 100 Strangers project. She said yes, but I could hear the reluctance in her voice. So she sat by one of the sculptures and I started shooting and would talk in between shots. Lori was very friendly and we had a good conversion talking about kids. Then something amazing happened, I noticed her son started smiling. At first he just sitting there, in fact I thought he might be sleep. That expression on his face in this image is "priceless."
Vicky was sitting in the park with her feet up in a chair just chillin. She had a warm look about her and I liked the scarf she was wearing. When I approached her regarding the project, she was very interested and agreed to have her photo taken. Vicki is a very nice lady, she even introduced me to two of her friends that were meeting her in the park. Vicky was born and raised in Dallas and works at the Meyerson Symphony Center. Before I left, she took out her camera phone and took a shot of me.
This stranger portrait was taken on a business tip to Winnipeg, CA. After work I went to the hotel to get my gear to look for strangers to photograph. I found a mural painted the length of the wall next to a library. I thought this would make a cool background, but very few people passed by. I waited for some passersby, but few did, so I decided to go back to the hotel. On the way back, I saw Michael and Grace (#64) walking toward me when I interrupted them, gave them my card and introduced myself. I asked if I could take their portrait for the project. Michael asked what I would do with the pictures, I informed him that I would upload them to my website and Flickr. He agreed. Michael asked if he could use his megaphone in the shot, I told him that we would take various shots with and without the megaphone. Michael and Grace had just returned from a “May Day” protest rally in support of day labors. They were also supporting opportunities for Aboriginal Youth (Michael is Cree). Michael organizes AYO! (Aboriginal Youth Opportunities)—a youth-led anti-gang organization committed to breaking stereotypes and creating opportunities in the community. He has also spoken at TEDxManitoba in 2012. Michael has great personality and it was blast photographing him. We exchanged twitter tags, Michael tweeted a pic of me photographing Grace.
I was standing on a street corner in downtown Winnipeg, MB, CA, when I spotted Jessica crossing the street. Her style and obvious beauty drew my attention. Jessica was about to go into Tim Horton’s, a popular coffee shop here in Canada when I approached her. I described the project to her and asked if I could take her portrait. She was very hesitant, but didn't say no. It’s been my experience that if someone doesn't want their portrait taken, they say no without hesitating. I went into more detail about the project and to my elated surprise eventually she said yes. After about 3 frames, she was ready to go. Jessica is currently a student. Since she was on her way into the coffee shop, I bought her a cup coffee to show my appreciation.
I was photographing a fashion show at the Galleria, when I saw Carlos. His style immediately caught me attention, once the show was over I made it a point to try and find him afterwards. I walked to the area I last saw Carlos and he was around the corner from the catwalk. He had a few people around him taking pictures. I walked up to him and said I liked his style and asked if I could take his portrait. He said sure, he was standing next to black wall, I had a 85 1.8 lens I rented, I stood back and took a few frames. One of my favorites.
I saw Tenielle walking toward me at Klyde Warren Park, when I asked to take her portrait for the 100 Strangers project. She was hesitant but finally said ok. Sounds like she had a British accent which I always find charming. Tennille works for Crazy Fish, a sushi food truck. I told her there was a sushi food truck at my job a few months ago. I told her where I worked and she said that was her. It is a small world after all. I eventually found out that Tenielle is from Australia and she has been in Dallas for ten years. What's funny about this picture, at the time I didn't notice the frames on her shades were two different colors.
Last but not least is Josh from Winnipeg, CA. I saw this cool background in downtown Winnipeg. So I stood there waiting for a stranger with an urban look to pass by. When I saw Josh heading toward me, I thought he would make a good subject. I described the project and he said yes to the portrait. I placed him hear the multi-colored wall and took a few shots. Josh is a student, majoring in business and he graduates next year. Currently he needs to make some money so he’s looking for a job bar tending. Josh asked my about the experience of photographing strangers, I told him it’s very interesting. You get out of your comfort zone and met some amazing people. I emailed Josh a copy of the photo. We're friends on Facebook.
Because this was stranger portrait # 100 I had to include it. I was in North Park Center mall when I saw Priysnka walk by. A few minutes later she walked back toward where I was sitting and she went into a store. I waited for her to come out and I approached her and told her I was out photographing strangers. I told her I thought she was very attractive, then I asked if I could take her portrait. She was on the fence about it and finally she said yes. Priysnka was on her lunch break, she just received her masters degree in Psychology, she counsels people with eating disorders. I gave her my business card and thanked her.