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
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.