Stop and say hello

In college I took two photography classes. One was a film class at my local community college while I was still in high school, and the other was an intro to digital course at my university. The latter was a 3 hour course two days a week and we only discussed each others work twice: once mid semester, and once for the final project. I do not feel like I learned a lot except for how to edit RAW images. In fact, I spent most of the time not in the class because we were always “editing” which I did at home. Anyways, three things stand out to me from that class. The first thing is shooting RAW, but I already said that. The second was the only assignment I remember: Portrait of a Stranger. The third was a visit from Steve McCurry, who I believe has one of the most (if not the most) recognized National Geographic photo of all time, Afghan Girl (you know what I’m talking about, right?). I’ll get back to his visit in a minute.

The “portrait of a stranger” assignment was not walking around and snapping pictures of strangers on the street, and my teacher made that very clear. The assignment was to photograph a stranger, but get to know them. Being as I love to photograph people, I really took this assignment seriously. I went to downtown Lawrence, Kansas with my camera in hand on a beautiful spring afternoon and walked around for awhile. The great thing about Lawrence is that it is not difficult to find “interesting” looking people around. It’s a rather “hippie” town filled with preppy frat/sorority college students and also homeless people that everyone treats with respect because the respect is given in return. There are usually people sitting and playing instruments and singing every couple of blocks and people sitting outside enjoying an international meal or coffee. You’ll see businessmen and hipsters, goths and jocks. It’s quite a site. Wow, as happy as I was to leave Lawrence, writing this makes me miss it! Well, finally I saw a man that caught my eye. He was crossing the street pushing his bike and we made eye contact. It was at that moment I took the opportunity to stop him. I don’t exactly remember how the conversation started but I think it went along the lines of, “Hi my name is Cate, what’s your name?” “Hi Cate, I’m Robb”. “Hi Robb. So, I have a photography assignment where I have to take a picture of a stranger but we have to get to know them. Can I talk to you?” Lucky for me, he obliged. We went to a coffee shop where he drank his own coffee from a mason jar and then invited me to go to his house because his passion is wood carving and he said he made most of the things there. I didn’t say no although I was nervous but that kept me on guard once I got there, just in case anything were to go in a way I didn’t want it to go. Thankfully it didn’t, and I got this shot:

Later that spring, while traveling in NYC, I got this one. Obviously the man saw me because he’s looking right at me in the photograph, but he looks serious, right? Well, after I took the photo he smiled big and made some joke which I don’t remember now… but it was a great conversation starter.

I am thankful we had that project because it taught me that I can still be myself when taking images of people and I can still smile, which is something I love to do.

Then today I came across this video from Steve McCurry, basically saying the same thing:

2 Comments

  1. Joshua Sterrett December 11, 2011 at 12:17 pm Permalink

    Oh wow! You actually met Steve McCurry? That's really amazing. Especially if he was guest teaching in your class. I took just one film class in Community College but wish I had taken more classes (if only my university allowed me to without taking a multitude of drawing and design classes before I could hold a camera). What did you learn from Steve on that day? Anything memorable?

    Your portrait of a stranger is really great and way to be brave. It sure paid of huh?

    I find taking portraits of people to be a bit intimidating and daunting, especially when you don't know them. I've pulled it off now and then of course but usually the person is quite busy to actually have a sit down and talk. I think I'll take this project on once I have a camera back in my hands.

    Thanks for the inspiration. Love your blog

    Reply
  2. Joshua Sterrett December 11, 2011 at 12:17 pm Permalink

    Oh wow! You actually met Steve McCurry? That's really amazing. Especially if he was guest teaching in your class. I took just one film class in Community College but wish I had taken more classes (if only my university allowed me to without taking a multitude of drawing and design classes before I could hold a camera). What did you learn from Steve on that day? Anything memorable?

    Your portrait of a stranger is really great and way to be brave. It sure paid of huh?

    I find taking portraits of people to be a bit intimidating and daunting, especially when you don't know them. I've pulled it off now and then of course but usually the person is quite busy to actually have a sit down and talk. I think I'll take this project on once I have a camera back in my hands.

    Thanks for the inspiration. Love your blog

    Reply

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