The photos I'm about to talk about were taken nearly a year ago. And they need a bit of explaining. You see, I am of the personal belief that everyone has their own story to tell. People often think that I, on occasion, randomly photograph strangers in public for no reason whatsoever. But in most cases, the people I photograph are individuals I find interesting, and whose unspoken stories intrigue me. Who is this person? Why is he/she here? What about said individual might hint at his/her own personal narrative? Though I may never know, the prospect still captivates me. The man below is one such person that I encountered.
I first spotted him in the San Diego airport while waiting for a flight. The reason I even noticed him in the first place was probably due to his crutches, the result of what appeared to be a broken foot. He seemed to be about average height, with a fairly athletic build (which probably coincided with his injury in some way). Armed with only a backpack, it was clear that he had difficulties maneuvering about the crowded terminal. He stood alone, somewhat uncomfortable with his apparent loneliness and his evident physical vulnerability. I seemed to lose sight of him, and forgot about him entirely until about an hour later when he boarded the same flight as me, after which he slipped my mind once more.
It was the third time I sighted him that I finally decided to pull out my camera and casually snap a couple of shots from afar. His circumstances intrigued me, and I found myself wondering what series of events brought him to Denver, Colorado. How did he break his foot? Why did he have a tattoo on his arm? Who was he on the phone with at the baggage claim? I'll never know the answers to these questions, and to some degree, I would rather not know. Life is full of mysteries, both large and small. And the fact that this stranger remains a stranger is potentially more powerful than whatever the truth might be.
Many photographers pride themselves on confronting their subjects when photographing strangers. Good manners dictates that one should ask permission before taking a photo, especially while abroad. Though I wholeheartedly agree with this practice, I choose to photograph my subjects in the exact opposite manner. As a "theatre person," I am a firm believer in the "fourth wall." When I am behind a camera, I take upon myself the role of an observer looking in on the outside world. Confronting an individual breaks this fourth wall, and it also forces a subject to shift out of his/her natural character.
There are Flickr groups full of photographs of "100 strangers," wherein photographers set out to photograph one hundred random strangers with their permission. While some of these sets might have one or two interesting shots, the truth is that the vast majority of these photos are simply posed and apprehensive smiling faces. Which is why I prefer anonymity when photographing people, shooting from as far away as possible and as discreetly as possible, as to not disrupt the natural flow of life. The wildlife photographer does not confront his/her subjects, and the photojournalist does not intervene and meddle with his/her surroundings. I fit somewhere in between.
And if you happen to be the man in the photographs above, I apologize for taking your picture in such a paparazzi-esque manner, and I hope your broken foot got better.