Monday, November 9, 2009

Des Inconnus - the start of a photography project

For months I have been marveling at Benoit P's Stranger series on flickr. He approaches strangers and even goes door to door making beautiful portraits. I'm timid by nature so I found myself even more impressed by his courage than by the photos he takes (though of course I wouldn't be so impressed if he took crappy portraits).
I have been talking about starting a Strangers project for a while now but every time I see a stranger I really want to photograph I can't get up the nerve. Like a teenage boy who desperately wants to ask a girl to dance but can't stand the thought of rejection I just walk by, throwing longing glances back over my shoulder until I can't see the person anymore - then kicking myself for not just going for it.
Well I finally just went for it. I set myself the task of getting one portrait per week (at least) and yesterday I decided to start.

I was walking down to the river when I spotted these two ladies while I was crossing the street. I framed the photograph in my head immediately and again gazed longingly as I continued to walk down the street. And then I stopped. I turned around and marched back up the street and walked right up to the ladies and in my best of best French I asked if I could photograph them. Tripping over my words, rushing to explain myself before they could say no. Oh no, it's not for a newspaper it's just for me. I just want to practice portraits. I'm timid and I'm trying to overcome my fear of talking to strangers.

The woman on the right, after verifying that her picture would not end up in some newspaper seemed more than willing to let me take the photograph. Her friend shied away but didn't exit the frame.

It was really the woman on the right that drew me to want to take the photograph in the first place. She reminded me of a cat. Her eyes are perpetually half closed it seems - like a bored feline, and her irises seemed so large that I don't recall seeing he whites of her eyes.

I snapped three quick pictures. She asked where I was from. She could tell I wasn't from around Limoges but she couldn't place my accent. I thanked the ladies and hurried down the street - exhilarated from my first attempt and crossing my fingers that the pictures were what I wanted them to be.

I walked down to the river and over the bridge - doing some exploring that I have been putting off. I stopped to film some ducks for a video I'm working on and a man came up behind me and pointed further down the path and said that the fisherman down there wanted me to take his picture. I agreed and the man yelled happily down to the fisherman to let him know I was coming.

It gave me a strange feeling on being back in grade school - when you get your friends to give "messages" for you to someone you are too nervous to talk to and once your friend gets an answer they tyrn yell back to you and totally blow your coolness cover by making you acknowledge that you asked for the message to be passed.

I walked down to where the man was fishing and set up my tripod. He cast his line and then patiently waited for me to focus the lens and take several shots. I asked him if there were big fish to be had in the river and he assured me that there were. He explained his method of catching small fish from the river and then using them as bait to catch larger fish.

I loitered around for maybe 5 minutes - hoping to see him catch something - but more just reveling in the fact that I could understand what he said and that this stranger was letting me partake without us having to go through the sometimes tiresome formality of exchanging names and nationalities.

I thanked him heartily and he thanked me in return - and I continued my adventure. I really have put off exploring by the river for far too long.

Expect one post a week dedicated to the stranger project from now on (i hope i hope!)


fgray01 said...

I love this! And what a great way to get yourself out of your comfort zone and into the "real" France!

Amy said...

Oh, I love your idea! And these two pictures are really beautiful! (by the way, I've just discovered your blog and enjoy reading it!) (and, sorry for my English, I am French so...;))

Lacey said...

Bienvenu a mon blog Amy! If you hadn't said you were French I would never have known from your English - not a single mistake! One day I hope my French is that convincing!

@Franny - the "real" France is what I'm all about ;)

Martin B. Cherry said...

i wanted to photograph more strangers while in spain. i asked a few, but they refused. one the first things i learned upon arriving, was to ask, "may i take a photo?" in spanish. i did manage to take a few stranger photos, but i wanted more. i wish i had better spanish speaking skills to have a dialogue with person i am photographing. also, here is a link to guy who does a ton of stranger photography.

of course via my blog

Lacey said...

Marty - bravo for asking at all. If I didn't speak French as well as I do (like a 7 year old child really but it works)I don't think I would have the guts to ask.
So far no one has turned me down- but they all have asked why I want a picture, so being able to speak French well enough to say "well Im doing this project (just for myself!) to practice taking portraits and to force myself to use French and meet people" has been so useful.
Thanks for the link - I will check it out pronto.