Photographing Strangers

2019

I went around Maryland and had conversations with strangers, then took their portrait. With these encounters, I also asked each person a different question and interpreted their responses into poems.

It was right after 5 PM, rush hour. I went to Wegmans and walked back and forth across the store, possibly catching strange looks. I was trying to find someone to talk to that did not look like they were in a rush, someone calmer compared to those who were running errands after their long day of work. I look down the cosmetics aisle and see this woman looking at lotion, pondering about which brand to buy. It was her bedazzled New York City cap that captured all of my attention. So I came up to her, told her about the project, and asked if I could take her portrait. An expression of surprise came across her face. "Of all days," she said referring to her comfortable appearance, "Sure, why not." After taking the picture, I then asked her a question: "What is your most terrible memory?"

I've got this thing with heights.

I thought

I was walking into another room.

I could see the other room

through the glass.

Then everyone stopped

and turned around.

I turn

and the door closed.

Up I went

and I held on for dear life.

Walmart, the world of “save money, live better.” This is the place you go to find anything you need for a great, cheap price. Walmart has more than just items, it is also full of interesting people. Some might come across a yodeling, 12-year-old kid who ends up going viral. I had the chance to meet an energetic man with a cool hat. He was working as one of those people who stop you when you walk by, asking about what TV provider you have. His partner began to ask me the scripted question, but before I could even answer, he got excited about the camera in my hand and asked if he could try it out. Turns out he used to do a lot of photography. However, he wanted a change of pace so he sold all of his gear. I asked him if I could take his portrait and he was all for it. Then I asked him a question: "If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one ability, what would it be?"

If I had no limits.

I wish I could teleport.

One second here

and another there.

First sitting on the wall of China,

then another from

the International Space Station,

I would have no boundaries

I could never be locked in.

I am always free.

Lunch, the midday food break away from everything else. The Lexington Market is a hub for this midday rest. She was sitting alone in the back when we saw her. And she was probably making glances at us every now and then, wondering what we were doing walking around in circles with cameras. She had earbuds plugged into her phone, but she was not using them. She was just sitting there and eating her lunch. So we went up, greeted her, told her about the project, asked for a portrait, took the picture, then followed with a question: "What do you value most in a friendship?" She accompanied her answer with an example.

Just from a picture

I picked up my phone

and took a selfie of my new haircut

 I just lost my job;

what else could I do?

And I posted.

Then, she knew just

from that picture.

"Hey, what's wrong?"

Forty-two years of friendship,

loyalty, and honesty,

and she knew.