Long time before the idea of this blog even entered my head, I’ve been wanting to photograph people on the street. Partly for the fashion side of things, partly to draw them, mostly both. There have been times where I’ve just about chased after people just to get a second look at their shoes, or coat, or whatever else it was that caught my eye (discreetly, of course; I only ever aim to look slightly psychotic).
However, while I wouldn’t exactly describe myself as a shy person, I’ve found that having to ask people to take their photos can be extremely intimidating. There’s always that fear of rejection, fear you’ll end up standing there, empty-handed, and looking like an idiot. Because you are putting yourself out there, or at least that’s what it feels like at the time. However, while I am sure there are photographers out there who’ve from the very start never had that problem (or anyone else for that matter who’s in any line if work that requires such skills) and will therefore probably only understand what I’m talking about from an outsider’s perspective rather than personally, I can’t really imagine I’m the only one.
Admittedly, I took a few photos here and there at London Fashion Week, but I figure that doesn’t count seeing as everyone’s there to do one of two things: photograph or be photographed. Which basically means that so far, my actual street photo count is this: zero.
But – a revelation! Well, maybe not quite, but here’s what happened so you can decide: I was walking past St Paul’s on my way home on the beautiful Friday arvo we were having when, right across the road, I saw this man in his early thirties talking animatedly on his phone, and dressed in this I-rolled-out-of-bed-and-across-my-floor-then-these-clothes-attached-themselves-to-me-and-now-I-look-really-stylish kind of way, and I immediately wanted to take a photo. However, I was way too far from him and had a prime lens, so I walked across the road to where he was standing instead. Then, disguised by masses of people and a bus stop, attempted to take a few discrete photos, milking the situation of him being deep in his phone conversation. But, people in the way and him turning around every few seconds made this a somewhat impossible task, and before I knew it, he was off the phone. ‘Come on, go do it now, ask him!’, I kept telling myself, ‘It’s easy, you’ll probably never see him again!’, but my feet stayed put; I couldn’t even look at the dude. And then, as suddenly as I saw him, he walked right past me and jumped on the next bus.
Oh well, I sighed. There you go – another ‘fear of failure’ failure.
So I kept waking home, thinking about how silly and pathetic I was being. How they will always most likely say yes, and how even if they said no, I would most likely never see that person again. How I’m not going to be in my 80s and remembering that time I went up to that person and they said no and wishing I’d never done it to. And, moreover, how the more likely scenario is that I’d be in my 80s and remembering that time that I didn’t go up to that person and will now never know what could’ve been and wishing I had done it.
And so, walking along, having this internal conversation in my head, which was minute after minute getting more and more courageous (‘what was I even thinking being afraid’; ‘I’m so gonna do it next time’) I look to my right and – there he is again. He must’ve gotten off the bus at some point and he was now just standing there again, supposedly waiting for another one. Right on my path home. It was a sign.
So, flash back to me having acquired this ‘I’m determined and unstoppable and nothing will stand in my way’ attitude over the course of the previous 10 minutes, I now look at him and, with determination on my face – walk right past him. The giant inside me deflated once again. Except this time it was rather laughable.
And so then, I don’t know, I suppose out of sheer embarrassment at what a chicken-shit I was being, I stopped. And I walked back. And I asked. Politely.
And he said no.
I added that
I sometimes draw and I kind of have this blog that I sometimes update and I would sort of at some point like to become an illustrator I am an illustrator and would really like to draw his outfit. He barely looked at me and merely repeated himself.
So I said no worries, and turned to walk away, but then, out of sheer curiosity, decided to add “can I just ask you why?” And, as he prepared to walk off (to catch his bus, or get away from me, not entirely sure which), he just said in this thick Italian accent, not even bothering to glance at me: “Because I don’t like..”
And as I walked off I realised I felt – happy. Victorious even. And while you may be confused as to why on earth I’d be feeling happy, let alone victorious, seeing as I technically didn’t actually achieve anything, I realised it was because of three things:
Firstly, because he acted like such a douchebag about it (it really wasn’t so much what he said, it was the way he looked at me [when he bothered] like I was something nasty he had no interest in conversing with, his body language and, moreover, his tone) I realised that instead of feeling like I was the idiot, I felt like he acted like one instead. I realise some people are shy, or just don’t like having photos taken of them (and subsequently put up on online) and those are all valid reasons. But there is a polite way to refuse, especially if you were also asked politely, and, unless I’m really going out of my way to bother you, there’s really no need to be nasty about it. Especially considering the courage it might’ve taken that person to come up to you – not everyone will see these events in a positive light, after all.
Secondly, after not even having the courage to walk up to him in the first place, when it actually came to it, I suddenly found the courage to even ask him why, and that felt good. Admittedly, there may have been a bit of an out of body experience there where I stepped out, looked at myself quizzically, and went “Really? Did you just say that?”
But, mostly, I felt happy because of the fact that I tried. Yes I failed, but I tried and I failed and I realised that trying and failing and knowing the outcome, versus not trying and always wondering what could’ve happened was a much more satisfying feeling. And that realisation in itself felt victorious.
And thinking about it now, I realise that this is possibly a bigger step forward than it would’ve been had he said yes. Then again, who knows – maybe if he said no and was nice about it instead I actually would’ve felt like an idiot after all. I suppose I won’t know until I try again.