Behind the picture: Why I shoot street portraits

I often get asked why I like to photograph random strangers on the street. My answer isn’t all that complicated nor are my reasons for taking this photographic route. To be perfectly honest, I’m not even much of a people person! That said, I have met many interesting folks over the course of my street portraiture project.

The first portrait, 2011

The first portrait, 2011

Although I have shot some street photography and portraits in the past, my first true street portrait was taken in 2011, and I remember how that encounter put me on the path to photographing hundreds of people since. I walked by her at first and about 1 minute later decided to turn back and ask for a portrait. She kindly agreed and the photo (left), although not technically perfect, is one of my favorite images.

Behind every frame there is a story. Some of the stories are simple excerpts – an abbreviated version of the bigger picture while some are only single sentence interactions. Many others are lengthy engages that start to reveal who a person is and how their life has come to be at this precise moment. And there are the those who reveal some of the darkness about themselves.

What I find fascinating about each encounter is how absolutely different we all are, but at the same time, quite similar – regardless of our financial situation, family, lifestyle, race, culture, etc. It fascinates me on a social level, to meet these people. That brief interaction, which might only last a few minutes has the potential to inspire. And after all of these meetings, I have certainly come away inspired.

Mary Ann, 2011Brian, 2011

Mary Ann, 2011
Brian, 2011

One of the reasons for doing this project, besides photography, was to learn more about myself and humanity. Initially, going up to strangers and taking their photo and trying to strike up a conversation was a ridiculous thought. I’m not the run up and snap type of portraitist, and talking to strangers wasn’t my forte! After building up my courage and several months of developing my people skills and taking pictures, I began to find my groove and was soon getting the photos I wanted. At the same time I met people I would not have given a passing glance months earlier. I developed a rapport which has become a reasonably successful strategy, not only for photography, but general day to day interactions.

A challenge to overcome wasn’t simply the nervousness of the greeting, but to then add the element of the photo request.