For over 20 years I have been spending time with individuals and families to create portraits. It is one of my very favorite things to do. The simple joy of being human, and deep faith in the purpose of our struggle together motivates me to continue practicing the art of portraiture.
Strangers generally ignore one another. It is what we are conditioned to do from an early age. I, however, have always been a people watcher. As a child, I was often caught staring. I would wonder, “Why is it rude to stare?” People are so fascinating and no matter how much you know about a person there is always more. Being a photographer is the perfect occupation for the nosey child in me.
In 2008 I started walking around the town where I lived taking pictures of strangers. I have chosen to make portraits within the first few moments I encounter someone. I do my best to give people my full attention as we experience the relationship tip from stranger to acquaintance. Some images are of strangers whom I am quite familiar with but have been busily ignoring for years… until I gave myself the assignment of being the town photographer.
When I approach people and ask if I can take a picture I keep an open mind and remind myself to be patient. I ask and wait for an answer. It is a practice in patience that I sorely need. Sometimes, after the most awkward smiley stare I am rewarded with a yes, and I am grateful. There are times when people say no. I have learned to honor it, to be thankful for the answer and move on.
One of my favorite movies is Amelie, by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Sometimes when I am following people I think of her. One time I made a little wish that the First National Bank corner would find a perfect person to stand for a picture. A few days later the man in the brown suit showed up. After I took his picture we went for ice cream and he told me about his first failure in life. Buying a gas station.
On good days I feel like Mr. Rogers or Big Bird gleefully walking around the neighborhood. Sometimes I feel like a creepy stalker, so I switch to landscapes or shoot the sky.
The first time I spotted him he was standing on a corner, wearing a brown suit and matching bowler hat. Folded in his left hand was a copy of The Wall Street Journal. He was positioned between two bank deposit boxes built into the granite wall. On the cornerstone was the building’s date, 1930. The man himself was certainly from another time and I marched straight across the street to ask if I could take his picture.
He agreed and was a natural in front of my lens. I confided to him that I had made a wish that the perfect subject would appear on this corner — someone who belonged right in the middle of the picture I wanted to take. I asked the man for his contact information.
“My name is Alfred Blessing. I am A. Blessing.” He said with a wink and little bow. I had a feeling that Alfred had used this endearing introduction before, and it worked like a charm. I took him for ice cream and he told me about his first big failure in life… buying a gas station.
I kept in touch with Mr. Blessing and called him whenever I was exhibiting the project he was in. I quickly realized that he had difficulty with his memory. I needed to tell him the story of how we met each time we spoke. He loves that story and I love to tell it.
Alfred invited me to his house to take more pictures. This is when I met Mariette. She is from Switzerland and they have lived together in the same house for almost 45 years. She moved in shortly after his wife died to take care of the house and care for his young daughter. Though Mariette is a constant presence, I still haven’t quite figured out her relationship with Alfred. It is something less than romance but something more than that of a servant. And it is almost entirely unspoken.