100 Strangers

The first one was the hardest. A year ago, emboldened by the popularity of my Bate Island Project, I set out to start another photo project, one that would provide a great challenge for me in overcoming one of my biggest handicaps and greatest fears. One, that would get my adrenaline flowing, my heart rate increasing, my breathing deeper.

I would overcome my extreme shyness and I would talk to total strangers. And ask to take a photograph of them.

Last year, when I embarked on this project, I walked the cool streets of Westboro to Hintonburg, my D80 slung over my shoulder, camera bag strapped to my back, looking for people who caught my attention. I saw many, had a script tightly composed in my head, Brown Knowser business cards at the ready.

And all I could do was keep walking, never making eye contact, never uttering a sound.

I'm morbidly shy.

The photo project ended before it began, and I turned to doing a daily self portrait, but I hate photographing myself almost as much as I fear striking up a conversation with a total stranger. After a week, I dropped that project.

Last November, I attended a day-long portrait-photography seminar, presented by Henry's School of Imagery, and participated in a workshop on photographing strangers. I learned about what makes a good subject, what laws surround the use of these photos, and how to approach someone—specifically, how to respect hers or his privacy.

All I had to do was approach someone, ask to take a moment of his or her time. Introduce myself with my name, say that I'm an Ottawa blogger with a photo project, describe the project, and ask if I could take his or her picture.

Shoot the photo, and always make sure to show her or him that photo, before saying thank you and bidding a good day.

Easy.

Except, I'm horribly shy.

But I accepted the challenge that was presented at the end of the workshop: capture 100 strangers within the next year.

Last Saturday was sunny, warm, and people were out in the Glebe in droves. Outside of the new Whole Foods store, at Lansdowne, folks were coming and going, bags in hand, some, from the adjoining LCBO.

I started shooting the newly erected buildings, the traffic on Bank Street, and people walking along the sidewalks, when I decided that today was the day that I was going to start my project. I had a new camera and I was ready to grab fear by the horns.

I saw them running to catch the bus, but it was too late. By the time they had run across the street, the bus was pulling away from the stop. It didn't go far, as the light, some 50 metres or so ahead, was red. Another bus stop stood on the other side of the intersection.

While the women debated whether they should try to run once more, the decision was made for them, as the light turned green and the bus continued on its way. The women turned, found a bench outside the LCBO, and sat down.

It took almost 10 minutes for me to gather my courage. There were two of them: I had my camera, I didn't look dangerous. I practiced my script in my head a couple of times.

And then I slowly approached them.

"Hi. Sorry to disturb you, but do you have a moment? My name is Ross Brown and I'm an Ottawa blogger. I'm doing a photo project to photograph strangers: would it be alright if I took your picture?"

It's a yes or no question: if they said no, I'd apologize for disturbing them and I'd walk away. If they said yes, I'd snap the photo, show it to them, and thank them.

They said "yes."



So did the next five people I asked. It got easier every time.

My project is officially underway. You can see my subjects in my 100 Strangers Flickr album.

Stay tuned.

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