Monday, May 14, 2007

passing by


I have seen this man around town for years, asking for spare change in a gruff, slightly intimidating voice. Sometimes he seems a bit drunk, other times not, but usually sitting on the pavement or a concrete planter.

For years I have avoided eye contact as I pass him, just gently shaking my head no and trying to make less jarring footfalls in the hopes that my loose change doesn't jingle and give me away. I have never given him any change. Partly it's because I carry my change in a change purse, so I don't want to stand next to him while I awkwardly unzip the cranky zipper and finger through the loonies and toonies to fish out what I feel may be an appropriate coin; I didn't want him to watch my selection.

Mostly it was for reasons that Jen mentioned in her post way long ago, a post that still rolls around my mind, altering the edges it comes into contact with. In short, a post that changed my mind in a big way.

I saw him sitting on this corner last week, the blue anwnings and red railings echoing outwards from him like a wave, and I wanted to make a picture. But I was too afraid, so I just kept walking.

When I saw him there again the other dya, this time on the other side of the building's corner, I couldn't resist. I shot from across the street, and I think I saw him looking at me through the lens but figured I was just shooting the building or something.

As I went from shop to shop, shooting here

violin player

and there,


he stuck in my mind. I wanted more photos. I decided that I would ask for a picture if he was still there on my way home. Sometimes I get fatalistic in my photography, working my courage up to match the shot in my mind's eye. I give myself time and figure if they're still there, it was meant to be.

As I got a loonie out for the violinist, I also got a loonie out for the bearded man. I'm not proud that I had ulterior (photographic) motives for giving him change, but if he'd said no to a photo, I wouldn't regret giving him the loonie.


As I approached him, I couldn't resist shooting a bit more, just in case he said no (ethics anyone?). As I shot, two pedestrians passed him by with barely a glance, one just outside the frame but indicated by his gesture of the hand that holds his smoke. The passing bus changed the composition in a way I like.

Finally, I got up the courage to approach, loonie in my outstretched hand. He took it and said thanks. Then he immediately struck up a friendly conversation with Swee'pea, noting how healthy he looked, and I mentioned Swee'pea's recent illness, and we talked for a bit. We had as nice a conversation as I've ever had with a random stranger, perhaps nicer because there was no unsolicited advice.

I asked for his photo and he obliged happily. (It surprises me that almost no one asks why I want their photo... I wonder what they think of me and my camera?)


He said, "I'll even given you a smile," and he seemed downright joyful to me. Maybe it was just the effect of the contrast between my initial impression of him that's been cemented for years in me, but he seemed awfully pleased. (I have to say, though, that the shot above, the slightly grumpy looking one, is by far my favourite of the series.)


I left feeling like I had made a friend. The next day, on our way to the farmer's market, we passed him, sitting a ways down the street from where he was before, but still directly on the concrete and with his crutches beside him. I made to smile at him, but he didn't look at me; guess I was just another invisible passerby.


Kyla said...

Very cool, I love the photos and the story. That Jen, she's got the power to change minds.

Mad Hatter said...

Oh, I love the smile. The warmth in that smile is overpowering.

slouching mom said...

What a terrific story. I love that he smiled for you.


And I know I have remarked on this before, but you are some photographer.

Christine said...

What a great spring story. The crutches intrigue me. . .

Beautiful photos as always.

jen said...

oh, he's beautiful, isn't he? and you, you are outstandingly gorgeous.

you have no idea how much this means to read this. thank you.

jen said...

me again. i wonder if you were the only person to talk to him that day?

and as i went back to look at him again, all i can think is how can it be okay for him to sleep outside? no matter how many times i see it, i always feel the same.

Bon said...

dude. what a story, and what pictures.

i'm always fascinated by crossing boundaries with transformative it can be of my own expectations or assumptions. and then, as in your case, how surprised i can be when i go back to being a stranger in the sea of strangers for that other person...

thanks for this. it made me think.

Beck said...

Beautiful, beautiful photos.
Poor guy.

Mimi said...

Huh. These are wonderful photos. How interesting to break that wall of mutual silence ... and then to mount it again. Lots to think about.

crazymumma said...

He looks proud.

He'll get to know you in time.

(maybe give him a copy of the photo!)

thailandchani said...

Great photographs of course.. and somehow I'm guessing he will eventually feel safe enough to smile back in passing. Can you even imagine the experiences he's had?



He looks like an interesting guy though. Hope you are able to get to know him better.



Aliki2006 said...

Haunting photos--very much so. And you have the power to change minds, too...

Matthew M. F. Miller said...

Joy is waiting to be found in so many people we encounter on a daily basis.

Kudos to you for making a positive impact on him, you and us.

Oh, The Joys said...

The part about making a friend made me the happiest.

edj said...

I enjoyed this. I love street photography. My husband is also a photographer and he's taken quite a few pictures of street people over the years, and has great stories and pics too.
It's amazing what a smile can do. We used to always get scowled at by a local Islamic fundamentalist on his way to the mosque. Donn one day greeted him, and suddenly the guy smiled back and became really friendly. We even got invited to their child's naming ceremony.

ewe are here said...

Great story. And pics.

It really is sad, though, that people have to live this way. I'm not really sure where the answer lies.

Denguy said...

The "slightly grumpy looking one" is my favourite of your shots, too. Though I think, perhaps, he looks a little distant--nearly contemplative.

Nancy said...

These are incredible pictures. I love the smile you were able to coax out of him. Obviously you and your camera have a way with people!