Street photographyPosted: November 9, 2012
It was a typically gloomy summer day, and I was running late. I hadn’t intended to keep my friends waiting, but as usual, I’d allowed myself too little time to do all the things I needed to do. It was less a case of laziness, and more a case of vastly overestimating the speed at which I can get things done. Shower? Five minutes. Getting dressed? Thirty seconds. Brushing my teeth? There isn’t a unit of time small enough to measure how fast I can get that done.
So I was running late, walking as hard as I could without breaking into a run, looking like a furious C-3PO as I flip-flapped my way down the cobblestone path that lead to Kelvinbridge Underground. Just before I reached the arch of the bridge, I spotted a man who was dressed a little too hip for his forties. Of course, there’s nothing objectively wrong with wearing the clothes of the young when your face is beginning to sag, but it is a little jarring. A bored young boy was standing next to him, and they were milling about uncertainly.
I’m the kind of person people stop and ask for directions. It happens to me all the time, and I don’t know why; maybe it’s the glasses. I have accepted it, and come to embrace it. I like helping people, but I know it’s difficult to ask for help. So there’s a method to encouraging people to ask you for help: simply slow down a little, look at them for slightly longer than is necessary, and wear a mask of open friendliness. I did, he caught my eye, and the game was on.
“Hello,” he said, leaning forward. He was French. “I am a photographer, we are here in Scotland looking for people with interesting fashion, is it all right if I take some pictures?”
Interesting fashion? Moi? Flattering, but suspicious. While I believe that with an unlimited budget and suitable shopping venues I could assemble a crude but passable style, I had neither of these. I had an old jacket, older jeans and a flat cap. I looked more like a farmer on his day off than fashion-conscious.
“Sure…” I said, hesitantly. “How long will it take?”
“Oh, about five minutes, maybe ten.”
Twenty minutes later, he was snapping away with a gigantic Polaroid. “Good, yes, come forward,” he said. “Tilt your chin downward a little, yes, good.” I confess, it felt great. Not so great that I wanted to assemble a portfolio, but for once it felt like my traditionally stony face was being used for something other than making people around me assume I was pissed off. I was, however, becoming a little uneasy. My thoughts ran to the last time a French guy had asked to create a picture of me, below the Eiffel Tower. I began to think they were going to ask for money I didn’t have.
“All done,” he said. It didn’t sound like he’d got the pictures he wanted. “Here is a photo for you to keep.”
I took the photo. In an age where cheap, limitless and decent-quality photography is available to all, it’s easy to forget how good some people are with those machines, manipulating lighting and composition to create a mood rather than a visual record. “Thank you,” I murmured. “That’s great, thank you.” I’d forgotten to thank the two of them in French, but they didn’t seem to care, they were already looking for their next subject.
But do you know what the best part was? Better than having a new story to tell and a semi-professional photo of myself to treasure?
Now I had an excuse to be late.