1000 Strangers: Making Friends Through Photography
Stranger… It’s a funny word, isn’t it? This word we use to describe someone we don’t know. And we are a stranger to other people Are we strange? My middle school’s slogan was a quote from William Butler Yeats, “There are no strangers here; only friends you haven’t yet met.” I’ve managed to carry that with me all these years. The moment we meet someone, learn their name and a little bit about them, they’re no longer strangers. Then they become an acquaintance, or if you’re like me, they go right to friend status (or only very occasionally to creeper status).
I’ll tell you a little secret that I’ve only told one other person in my life. I have a strong, deep, and genuine love for all people. Friend, stranger, or anything else. That love governs how I interact with people, what I have to give them, and it sometimes makes it terribly difficult for me to take something from them. I admire people from afar, greeting them with a smile, and silently wishing them well as we pass on the street though I never wish to intrude or interrupt their day for no good reason.
Lately there has been a lot of talk about photography projects involving strangers. Projects that go beyond taking the surreptitious photos on the street with a 200mm zoom lens. We’re talking about projects where the photographer walks up to a perfect stranger, engages them in conversation, and then dares to ask for a moment of their time to make a photograph together.
Because I have a deep desire to engage with people, grow my photography craft, and learn more about the other people craft, I’ve launched my own stranger photography project. My goal is simple: engage 1,000 perfectly strange people, ask to take a photograph, and ask them whether they have a craft for their own. As of this moment, I have captured exactly nine photographs of strangers.
When I quite nervously stopped two people on the street to ask, “May I take your photograph for a project?” they declined. The third attempt was with this fella Jon. He replied yes without any hesitation at all. Jon was really accommodating and as it turns out, has an outstanding creative and philanthropic pursuit of his own. He founded www.numbersforthecause.com. They produce a number of clever t-shirts, with a large portion of the sales donated to help fight human trafficking.
So far in this single project I’ve learned so much about myself and about the kindness and curiosity of the people around me. I’ll save most of those thoughts for other posts as the project continues. For now, I’ll leave you with this: What hesitations do you make in your life that prevent you from starting or finishing projects or from growing and becoming your best possible self? Sometimes the best approach is to just stop thinking and start doing.
P.S., There’s a great quote from John F. Kennedy that I like to think of when I’m struggling to take steps that work toward my goals: “Things do not happen. Things are made to happen.” I hope it helps you too when you need that extra push to take action.