Monday, July 7, 2008

Four Strangers

If you have been following this blog for any length of time, you may have noticed that most of the photographs I take are of food or nature, with occasional other inanimate objects mixed in here and there. What you rarely see on this blog is photographs of people.

There are two reasons for that. First: I am not a parent and therefore do not have ready access to adorable children who can act as my subjects. Second (and undoubtedly the larger issue): taking pictures of real live people is quite stressful. I suspect my hesitation stems from my feeling that taking a person's photograph is something of an unwelcome intrusion into personal space, likely to be met with scowling, rolling of eyes, and irritated sighs.

Of course (so I'm told), not everyone feels that way. Some people are quite happy to be photographed. In fact, some people can't get enough of the camera.

With that reassuring thought in mind, and feeling quite inspired by the portraits of talented photographers like Ciao Chessa and nicolejoy1, I have been gathering my nerve for some time to take a plunge into people photography and participate in the 100 Strangers project. 100 Strangers is a website that challenges people to improve their street photography by taking pictures of 100 complete strangers. (And no photos on the sly; you actually have to get permission.)

Below are my first four strangers.

While walking in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden not too long ago my father pointed out these four people--three of them feverishly text-messaging on their cell phones, and one clearly just enjoying the fresh air, sunshine, and smell of the roses. It was an amusing scene and so I decided to go for it and ask the group if I could photograph them. The text-messagers happily assented, and told me that it was quite appropriate that I should want to photograph them because their mother (far left) is 105 years old.

A 105-year old woman enjoying a sunny June day in the gardens with her children is certainly worthy of photographic commemoration. As she gracefully shook my hand and approved the photograph, I felt quite confirmed in my decision to give this project a try.


cinnamon gurl said...

Yes, taking pictures of people is SCARY! But it gets easier the more you do it. Good for you!

amy said...

wonderful photograph and such a sweet story! I look forward to seeing more faces on your blog. 4 down, 96 to go. Hey look! I can do math!

Ashkon said...

I love how your subjects are sitting up nice and straight for the photo just like they used to do in the old days.

evan said...

I don't think this should count as 4 out of 100. If that's the case, you might as well take a picture of a huge crowd and complete your 100 Strangers project with one photo. I say 100 Strangers equals 100 photos. No point trying to cut corners. A nice picture though.

niobe said...

I find it very hard to ask people for permission to take pictures of them. But, when I've worked up my courage and asked, I've gotten some of the pictures that I'm happiest with.

Lu said...

you freakin' rock! and what an awesome first pic of the strangers.

Robin said...

What a great story. You're brave...I still don't think I'd be able to ask people if I can photograph them. But the project seems awesome, maybe someday I will get up the courage!

Angie said...

Good for you! I wish I had the courage to do that :-)

Natascha said...

I love all the elements of this photo: the 105 year old mother, the "children" who are all holding a cell phone, the way that sit straight and look right into the camera, their smiles...Great photo!

sarah said...

i love this picture. it has a nice humor to it, but there's also something about it, and this is going to sound reaaaaaaally cheesy, that's life-affirming.

Sabrina said...

I always wonder how people get up the nerve to photograph strangers. I've done it exactly one time years ago and the (pre-digital)photos were one of my favorites.

I really like your first four strangers and the story behind it. Can't wait to see more!

Glad your back.

Elizabeth said...

Thanks for the comments and encouragement everyone!

Cinnamon gurl - I hope you're right. I'm waiting for it to get easier.

Amy - Yes, keep an eye out for more strangers on the blog!

Ash - Yes, they took it seriously. Old school style.

Evan - You're right, it is supposed to be 100 photos, not 100 people. Even though I titled the post "Four Strangers" I am actually counting this as "1 in 100" so 99 to go!

Niobe - I really hope that is my experience too and that I get some good pictures from this challenge.

Lu - Thanks! And thanks for visiting!

Robin - I've only done one so far, hopefully I won't lose my nerve. I'll keep you posted!

Angie - Thanks! I hope I'll continue to have good responses from the strangers I ask.

Natascha - Thanks so much for your comment and for stopping by!

Sarah - Not cheesy at all. I totally agree.

Sabrina - Thanks. I hope I can find out a bit of a story about all the strangers I end up photographing for this. It's nice to know a bit of background.

bee said...

wow. 105? she looks serene. wonderful shot. the other three must be in the 80s or older.

Diana said...

I love this picture. I can't believe that one woman is 105 years old. She seems so vibrant and full of life. Great job on the photo.

limonana said...

brava Elizabeth!! Such excellent subjects... it is really intriguing to study all their amazing faces! & the cell phones are an excellent touch! can't wait to see more!

Chessa said...

elizabeth, dear, thank you for the shout out!

I love this photograph. Sometimes you just have to gather your nerve and ask...I never wanted to before but it gets easier to just do it. I think the best thing is to just remember that they are perfect strangers and the worst they can say is no. I've been yelled at a lot on the street but, as you know, that's not a rare thing in Manhattan. :) I'm a tough gal and can handle it.

If that doesn't work, you can always use a friend or significant other as a decoy...that's what I do a lot of the time! :)

Thanks, also, for the link...when I get to NY I'm going to definitely check it out. :)

thanks, again!!

Anil P said...

It's a Catch 22. Ask and you stand to lose spontaneity, don't ask and you risk being screamed at.

I undestand the need for privacy but I wonder if street photography isn't affected by it.

Street photography is an art, and photographing people in public places should not involve privacy issues, else the art form will peter away.

Marcie said...

GOOD FOR YOU!! Turning my lens on strangers is the scariest thing to do. Good job!

Elizabeth said...

Bee - Yes, they must be quite elderly too. Those are some good genes.

Diana - Thanks for your comment girl!

Limonana - Thanks dear. Don't they all have such expressive faces?

Chessa - I have totally done the decoy thing too!

Anil - Street photography is definitely a unique art form. I hope this will help me to improve at it, spontaneous or not.

Marcie - Thanks for the support, I hope it gets easier!

kadria said...

i found your blog through limonana, and love this post about the 100 strangers project! in fact, i'm so inspired by it, i'm seriously considering taking on the challenge myself! look forward to seeing more of your photos.

Hooked on Houses said...

I love this picture! I love that they were all text messaging, and I love that the mother was 105. How fun. -Julia :-)

Bonbon Oiseau said...


comfies said...

fantastic! i love this photo and the idea behind it..

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