I usually stay away from people when I shoot. If I catch someone’s eye, maybe I smile, but I usually try avoid eye contact, if I can help it, and I almost never think to ask for a portrait on the rare occasions that I interact with strangers on the street.
It was the nearing the end of Ramadan when I finally had a chance to visit Jason Lee’s “A Plain View” exhibit at Artspace 111 in Fort Worth. I thought long and hard about buying a print, but resisted. There were a couple that really spoke to the small-town Texas boy in me. Anyway. Afterwords, I took a brief walk around the train layup and little forgotten wild area next to the train tracks. It was an area that, in my mind (and the mind of others), was just begging to be photographed.
There was another photographer there, a digital guy. We had a brief exchange about getting closer to this scene: with my interest/expertise in graffiti and generally carefree attitude, I started down there without a care, but he put me off with a warning about the open train cars and you never know, so I backed off a bit.
Maybe closer would’ve been better, but I think this works alright, especially helping to establish the sort of environment Alfonso habitats (or perambulates, anyway). I was on my way back to the car when Alfonso approached. Given the nerves kicked up by the other photographer and the general location, I assumed he was looking for a handout. I had no cash on me and I was dreading it, may Allah forgive me for my gross assumption, and I was happily surprised to find out that he lived nearby and was just out for a walk.
Alfonso is somewhere around 70 years old. He told me about his time in Vietnam, his years as a marathon runner (until he blew his knee out in 1993), and his subsequent health issues. I didn’t note everything he mentioned but he’s struggled with diabetes, heart disease, and other things. I talked to him for about 10 minutes and then asked for a portrait. He thought about it for a minute, then said “sure, why not.” I took my time focusing, during which he mentioned that he used to be an amateur photographer back in the 1980s and asked if my 1967 Yashica Mat was digital. He seemed disappointed that it was just 120 rollfilm.
Ok. First, I didn’t frame very well, or very carefully. A bit lower would’ve been better, maybe include a bit more of the background, maybe catch the paper sack and beer bottle in his left hand. Plus, he has these strange 3 lines growing from his head, like arrows through his hat or something: I could’ve asked him to move a bit, or moved myself a bit. And his eyes are completely shadows because I metered for the background…
BUT: I ASKED A STRANGER FOR A PORTRAIT!!! Go Go me. Baby steps, FTW.
Now let me do it again, and again and again and again, again, again. One day, maybe I’ll get it.