22 April 2008

number 28

"hi, I was wondering, would you mind if I took your picture?"


"um, I'm sort of doing this thing, taking photographs of strangers and I thought maybe I could take your picture?"

"yeah okay. sure."

he starts to roll the sleeve of his shirt down over the tattoo covering his left forearm.

"you want me to cover this thing up?"

"no, not if you don't want to. I like it."

he puts down his cigarette and sort of smiles, shifts uncomfortably in his seat a bit, readjusts his posture. then he sits up real straight and tall, starts in with a stiff little smile and freezes. like he's back in first grade again, posing for the school photographer. I find this ridiculously cute. though not exactly what I want so I keep shooting until he really relaxes. I'm very nervous about the whole thing, I'm fumbling with the camera, setting it all wrong. I am completely flustered. trying to play it cool, though very unsuccessfully.

"so you're trying to get over your fear of strangers?"

"my fear of taking photographs of strangers, actually."

"just so you know, guys will never care if you take their picture. but girls will. girls care more about the way they look."

"hmm. you're probably right about that. thanks."

then he suddenly gets all excited about this thing I'm doing and gestures towards the coffee house where he works. he tells me about all the guys in the shop who'd love to have their picture taken. girls too, he says, but I'm running late. I thank him and say goodbye.

as I walk to the car, I know this will be my next project. I knew it the moment I saw him sitting there, the moment I ran to the car to grab my camera, the moment I opened my mouth to ask his permission, the moment he relaxed in front of the camera and started to forget I was there. as I drive away, I am somewhere between terrified and giddy. because taking photographs of strangers scares me. a lot. and this is how I know I'm headed in the right direction. out of all the possible projects I listed, this one made me the most uncomfortable. and since I'm looking to be stretched in new and spectacular ways, I'm thinking yes. yes, I'm headed in the right direction. I'm feeling all lit up inside. I'm closing my eyes, I'm jumping in.

thank you to everyone who initially offered their two cents worth, thank you kindly. and now I have more questions for you: how would you feel if a stranger approached you on the street and wanted to take your photograph? would you allow it? would you feel weird if they asked your name? how would you like to be approached? how would you like to be asked? please do tell because I'm in this for reals. currently finding great inspiration over at 100 strangers and the thought project. number 28 off the list, done. er, just beginning. 52 weeks of strangers and I've never been more nervous than I am right now.


  1. I would like to be asked just exactly the same way that you asked this guy.

    With sincerity.

    Here is to new, uncharted territory for you. Congrats on finding your new project!

  2. I saw these on Flickr and immediately came over here hoping for the back story. I love both shots. Love them. You nailed it. And you're a natural.

    I've lost count at the number of times I've lost my nerve to approach a stranger and missed what could have been such a potentially good shot. I really need to get over my shyness... I am inspired by you. And proud of you! No advice really. just encouragement to keep doing it!

  3. This is absolutely fantastic! I love the pictures and the story of the moment. Definitely ask for their first name.

    Personally, if you just explained like you did about taking pictures of strangers, that would alleviate my concern of being photographed. Because really my main fear would be that my picture would show up in a magazine somewhere with a black bar over my face and the heading "Fashion Don't"!

  4. When I was doing PDX in the street last summer, it was partly a project to get over my fear of taking pictures of strangers. After doing it for a few weeks, it became much easier and I noticed that it generally seemed to cheer people up when I took their photograph.

    I'm excited to see your photos from this project! You inspire me greatly.

  5. oh, you - this is fantastic.

    and, yes, i agree with 'i am' on the sincerity ticket. and don't forget to flash them YOUR gorgeous smile, too :)

  6. oh my, i just love this project! and mostly because it totally scares me too! i'm excited to see where this goes for you and to take a picture or two of a stranger myself too!

    thanks for the inspiration.

  7. oh my.

    my my my.

    i would love to do this. the very thought makes my head swim. i'm an introvert. this would freak me out.

    i have absolutely no idea what i would do if someone asked to take my picture. i might very well say no, though i would be very nice about it.

    i would definitely ask their first name. maybe what they do. and keep notes on that.

    go you!

  8. I guess I'd like to know why, I would like to think it was for a positive reason (not to be part of some "worst dressed list" or something). I'd also want to know where I could see the finished photo.

    I think you're very brave, I don't even dare to take secret pictures of strangers let alone speak to them!

  9. oh andrea. this is absolutely perfect. i am so so so ready to do this. i feel all tingly just thinking about it. but dang, can i swing it with film??? aaaah!

    ps. i took a picture of some dude's car today and had a little chat with him. so easy!

  10. what a great story. I'd probably start with "hey, i'm working on a personal project taking photos of people. Could I take your photograph?" sounds crazy enough to say yes to. ;)

  11. Hi, I've had several strangers ask to take my photo. The only time I was uncomfortable was if it was a man who was overly chummy about it and dragging the process out long past the picture was taken - because then I would start to wonder what he was *really* doign with those pictures.

    I like to be asked in a straightforward way. I like when the explanation for why is short and simple, leaving me to ask questions if i'm interested, and it wont feel intrusive if i'm not interested. I also like being asked if i'd like to see the picture afterwards. and then i like to carry on my way as though strangers ask to take my picture all the time and it's perfectly natural and casual.

    Enjoy your adventures!

  12. darn you blogger for eating up my first comment! i was all sorts of enthusiastic, lemme see about recreating that energy here.

    in short: I LOVE YOU!!!! i just find you to be the most inspiring, most fabulous and i sooooooo wish we were not on opposite coasts!

    to answer your question about the approaching of strangers...

    the other day, the boys and i went on a "come ON, baby" hike around our hood, walking hand in hand and chatting about the dogwoods and lilacs. a girl in a prius drove by and waved + smiled.

    a few minutes later, she rounded the corner, pulled over and popped out of her car, camera in hand.
    she shouted across the street, "you guys are so cute! can i take your picture?!"

    we all giggled, sort of nervously, but immediately said yes. i think it was the fact that she was so friendly, and so confidently asking us, that we didn't even consider saying no. nor were we even creeped out in any way...

    i can't imagine that you will have any trouble with people. and you will find that confidence soon, i'm sure. the scary nerves are half the fun though, right?


  13. Genius! When I was looking at my Bloglines this morning, I was thinking about how you are my favorite blogger, and noticing that it's partly because of the special mix of vulnerability and hope you bring to things. Then I clicked on this post and you illustrated that perfectly. I love the project, and have the exact same fear myself.

    I've always thought that if I had Moo cards to hand out when asking this sort of thing, that would help. You're giving them a little something of yourself, your blog address, the photo on the back, and somehow that seems better.

  14. This is a great great post. So many of fear the same thing, even when we HAVE a camera and SEE a great face. I'm pretty outgoing and I'm always afraid of "why"? Great post!

  15. Hmmmm... Sounds so scary to me. I don't know if I could approach somebody. If someone asked me? It'd so have to matter on what the photographer looked, spoke, and was like. Yes, that sounds bad. Being a teeange girl I'd probably say to no if I male photographer asked me. Depends on the circumstances, I guess. And what they were using them for.

    Amazing photos, your work astounds me.

  16. Wow. I'm blown away about the photos and their story, and by you. You are so inspirational. 52 weeks of strangers. That sounds like an excellent personal challenge. You have inspired me to make my own birthday list, and I'm going to have to get going as my day is Sunday!

  17. oh so good. what a wonderful little challenge to put on yourself.

    [I did have someone once ask if they could take a photo of Alena for a painting they were doing. It took me a bit off guard. I will have to tell you the whole story later.]

  18. great challenge you've given yourself Andrea! I think the way you asked him was perfect. Can't wait to see the results of this! xo

  19. Once again, you've found a project that
    seems awesome and fun and a great way to
    get over the fear of talking to strangers!

    so very cool!

  20. Oh I love the pictures and the project. Something I've wanted to do but lacked the nerve. This is very inspirational.

  21. this is a great project! i can imagine how you felt approaching him and taking the first photo... i would probably have thought about it, then left, and kicked myself later....

    i'm inspired by your awesome and creative ideas, confidence (and how you challenge yourself to build it), your motivation, determination, and always beautiful photos! i look forward to reading more and see how this goes...maybe i'll try it out myself one day!

  22. wonderful project. i've been thinking of doing the same thing lately but have let fear keep me from doing it. you have inspired me today! thank you.

    i would probably hesitate at first if someone asked to include my name with the photograph but after second thought, a first name would be fine to give. it seems you handled this just perfectly!

    congrats to you.

  23. Hello, I'm just a blog wanderer art lover freelance photographer who stumbled upon your work.

    To answer your question. I would let a stranger take my picture if they seemed sincere and trustworthy. Also, I would probably ask to see their work somehow.

  24. Can you just carry me around in your pocket? You might be the coolest girl ever.

  25. Awesome project, I'm excited to see where this will lead you!

    To answer your question, I wouldn't mind if you explained it in a good way. I grew up in South Florida, and creepy dudes would come to the beach and videotape all us young high school girls in our bikinis. (Of course I would flip them the bird and laugh when their videocamera jolted away ;)

    It probably helps that you're a female, and a friendly and awesome person from reading your blog. (Um, and obviously not creepy whatsoever.)

    I'm sure most people would be quite flattered!

  26. Hey! Not exactly what you're planning to do, but I thought you might want to check out this :

    Can't wait to see your 52 pictures of strangers! Good luck :)

  27. sounds like a cool project. i think you approached him in a welcoming way. as long as you aren't asking for change i'd hear your request and let you take my photo. there's lots of panhandlers where i live.

  28. GOOD girl!!! i feel like singing you the 'i'm proud of you song' (by mr rogers) that my mom always used to belt out when her kids would impress her. hmmm, about being asked by a stranger...i would be a bit surprised i think and not totally enthused because i'm fairly uncomfortable having my photo taken. that said...i would still say yes but would hope i didn't have to look at the camera or pose or anything. i think the best thing would be to be told to continue doing whatever it was i was doing.

  29. I would like to be asked nicely. There was once a guy on public transportation who thought I didn't realize that he was taking pictures of my son and it FREAKED me out. If his intentions were innocent, the stealth thing made it very sinister....

    You are definitely on to something here, and I'm eager to see how your project progresses.

  30. great job! keep up with your courage!

  31. like heather, i like the moo cards idea. i've thought about that before - putting my pictures on those little moo cards and then on the back saying something like "did i just take your pictures? go here to see it (flickr address here) and email me if you'd like the file."

    not sure you can fit all that on the back of a moo, but anyway...

  32. I agree with Heather. Some sort of business card would be a good idea. I love the MOO cards, too. I would offer my name and ask with sincerity. I would also offer them a card so they would know you were for real and where they might be able to see their picture. Good luck! This is a fanatastic idea!

  33. You are brave! I've not conquered that fear myself, yet. You've given me some inspiration.

    I'd let someone take my picture unless they seemed creepy. I'd tell them my name (again, unless they seemed creepy). I think it would be fun, especially if I were with a friend. I think straightforward is best. The way you did it seems just right to me.

    I am so excited for you taking the photography class. I took one awhile back and loved it and I miss it. I discovered that the darkroom chemical fumes burn my eyes (I kept thinking I had pink eye). I shoot only digital now but I really miss the whole film process. I'll enjoy it vicariously. Have fun and thank you for sharing your wonderful adventure!

  34. Personally, I would be flattered if someone asked to take my picture (as long as it wasn't a creepy old guy or something!)

    Best Wishes to you and your project!

  35. I like your photographs but most importantly I'm super impressed with your bravery. I love the idea of making a list and checking thing off.

    Your tone with this guy seems just right. People will respond according to their own issues not because of the way you ask. Keep on truckin'! Tracey

  36. I Love your idea, and it has given me the confidence to undertake my own project which does involve photographing strangers but only a specific part of them (not a rude part) I will keep you updated...



  37. I currently have the same dilemma. I'm a photography student and was told by my professor that I should go shoot a roll of people because it's the only way I'm going to get over my fear. I'm terrified because I don't know how people would react, but you've totally given me hope! Thanks!

  38. I think you'll discover that most people are entirely open to having their picture taken, especially if you preface the request by being honest about your intentions. In fact, your subjects will likely be more relaxed if they know that you are doing an exercise (as opposed to working for a newspaper or other professional role.)

    Some people would probably decline, but as an incentive you could possibly offer to email them the best shot. Your pictures are good enough and capture subject and environment nicely, so I think overall you could not only enjoy this project for yourself but spread a little sunshine as well.

  39. Hmm...scratch that. Nevermind the email. Just give them your url for a site where they can look for themselves. ;)

  40. oh, wow... my stomach turned when i thought about the project. but, only because i think it is so freaking great and i would not have the nerve. it make my new plates and forks project seem a little tame in comparison - mostly because they are not so vocal.
    i think the moo card idea is perfect, have an address on the back to your website so people can find out what you are up to with the photos.
    if the guy is your first out of the gate... then we have a year of fantastic portraits to look forward to... if i were him, i would be so proud of how you've captured me, both in words and pictures..
    congratulations on stretching yourself and allowing us to come along.

  41. oh you have crept into the deep corners of my creativeness and found my exciting fears. i love this. people have never been my strong point to photograph, and maybe i should attempt to face them.

    i have had pretty good results with photography strangers. random buildings...they have more of a problem with that. i suppose they think i am casing the place.

  42. these are gorgeous.

    i think he was right about how i'd act, being a girl and all. if i was having a good hair day though, i'd totally go for it. and find it flattering that i was interesting enough for such a thing. :)

  43. That is brave and super cool! I am scared to ask to take photos of strangers too! -plus since I am in Istanbul I have to deal with the whole not being able to speak Turkish very well yet. I tried a couple last week -one was fine with it and just went on with his work, but the second asked for money! I didn't take his photo.

    I like the way you asked and the idea of giving cards where they can check the photos out is a great idea!

    Your projects are great -what so many people want to do but (for whatever reason)never end up doing!

    Can't wait to see all the photos.

  44. You're so brave!

    Photographing strangers is one of my biggest hang-ups! I always want too soooo badly, but I chicken out at the last minute.

    Good luck and I can't wait to see what you see :)

  45. I completely understand you because, well, I'm a (wannabe) anthropologist and my work is exactly supposed to be: approaching strangers and asking for their stories. and I do feel unconfortable with that, just like you, it still seems to me a sort of violence, like breaking into someone else's life, even if they give their permission. with time this feeling changes, I guess, but I'm actually starting with that (just a couple of years) and it scares me a bit. it's a question of breaking the ice. anyway, if you want my opinion, I think you did it right. and if I were asked, well it depends on who's asking and what is that for. for your proyect I would do it :)

  46. this is so inspiring to me because i too have a fear of photographing strangers...and a little bit of a fear of photographing anything in public...not yet comfortable pulling the camera out and letting everyone see it...or see me behind it...

  47. you are so inspiring. i just leave your blog happy for reading it.

  48. you are AWESOME

    love you friend.

  49. by the way, jon gives out cards that say "i just took your photo, thanks" or something like that with his flickr address on it.

  50. Andrea, you are beyond awesome. When I was a reporter I was often too scared to ask people for quotes or photos -- and that's when I had an official reason! I think I'd be wigged out if a stranger asked to take my photo (though I did let someone do it at Coney Island once...), but after seeing how great this guy looks, I'd be less suspicious. And I think I'd let a woman do it before I'd let a man, which is a bonus for you.

  51. love this! love it, love it, love it.

    I think I would be flattered if a stranger asked to take my picture and I wouldn't mind if they asked for my name too. It's just enough, just enough for the imagination to go wild. A few snapshots and a first name.

    cheers to your new fabulous project!

  52. wow. what's it like to have such a sense of purpose, excitement, and energy? i wish someone could bottle "you"!

  53. What a great post! Congrats to finding your project. Scary? yes, but I guess you're also thrilled and excited about how beautiful this can become. Wow. ENJOY!

    ps. I just found your blog, it's stunning, very inspiring.

  54. Your photographs are so fabulous, people should be honored to have you take theirs. Most people are usually flattered when you ask to take their photograph, unless they are mentally ill or psychotic, and if that is so, you should probably stay away from them anyway.

  55. I have been asked three times, three different occations, by someone to take my photo. ( i´m sorry, weird language, i dont speak english well, but i hope you understand).
    I was never feeling acward or upset or anything. These photographers were all art students that were doing some project for school. (different years thoug. i wonder if the teacher regocnized me after seeing my picks three years in a row...).
    They were all very very nervous and i have to say that all that nervousness made it easier for me, somehow. I wanted to help them. I actually think that photographing thing was a part of the test to get in that artschool, so i really felt i wanted help them out.
    They all told me why they wanted to take my picture, they all seemed nervous, and they all seemed very humble and sincere. That worked for me.

    You are my hero!

  56. wow, I commend you for this. I have this fear too, and also want to surpass it. I've been thinking about it for awhile, now.

    I think I would be ok if someone wanted to take my picture. I'd just want to be asked plain and simple. Straight out. Can I take your picture? But I feel like I would understand. And some other people might not. Or maybe that's just me underestimating people.

    Good luck! I'll be watching this unfold.

  57. I absolutely love this and am inspired. I felt your fear during the first few lines. I need to do things that scare me, especially regarding strangers, I need to break the wall down.

  58. i would be up for a stranger taking my pic, i actually would take it as a compliment. kudos to you for such bravery :)

  59. Love this project, Andrea! If I was approached, I wouldn't mind having my picture taken, but I think if you really want them to stay strangers, there should be no names. Just random pictures of some person that someone, somewhere may recognize...and maybe not.

  60. I'd definitely let you take my picture. I don't think I'd even care if you didn't ask, but it is
    nice to be talked to.

    Good luck!

  61. hey girl.
    i've come out of lurking-mode because i LOVED this story and the photographs that went along with it.
    encounters with strangers can be delightful ... particularly when it is in the service of facing your fears.
    cool beans!

  62. oh my gosh, you're doing my worst fear. i have major anxieties when it comes to strangers anyway so i'm not sure i could do this.

    all the time i want so bad to take a photo of someone cute or cool looking and i just can't do it.

    good luck to you- have fun!!

  63. I think being sincerer is the bast. And i personally wouldn't want you to ask my name; i'd want to stay strangers.

  64. this is going to be an awesome 52 weeks for you. you are quite the inspiration. thanks for sharing!

  65. you're so brave!
    i hope i will ask strangers if i can take their picture sometime soon.
    but first i need to get friends with my new camera :)

  66. this is a good project. a good direction. i would like to think i would not be nervous. i know that i would be.

    you are a brave woman, andrea.

  67. Wow! It's so inspiring to see (or read about) someone who is facing their fear in this way. I would be nervous too, but people are so fascinating, aren't they? I love the picture of the tattooed man.

    As for being approaced, I was once asked by some people to be photographed, and at first it shocked me, but not in a bad way. I was flattered! I think most people would be.

  68. Hey, I'm coming out of lurk-dom to say that I think your projects and your list are truly inspiring. And scary. And fantastic.
    I fell off the 365 wagon and am looking forward to climbing back on with some strangers. Thank you.
    As for being asked...I think you have already done a fabulous job. The worst anyone can say is no.

  69. you already have a BA-zillion comments, but i just wanted to say this is an excellent idea. i always wondered how street photogaphy even happened. i mean, how do people get brave enough to take pictures of the strangers on the street. i've tried taking sneaky photos with a long lens, but then i just look like a stalker.

    congratulations on your braveness!

    and i would competely be open to a picture if a stranger asked, though i'd probably feel a bit funny about it.

  70. I think that was amazing! The shot of his tat was beautiful. I would also like to be asked just like you asked him. Awesome that you got out of your comfort zone to ask him. Great job girlie! No Fear.


  71. I love the way you are sharing your art. It is inspiring.

  72. This is a great idea... If I was a better photographer, I might try it.

    Being a bit paranoid, I'd want to know where the photograph was going to end up. There are some scary people out there who do weird things. I'd want to make sure you weren't one of them. No offense :)

  73. Wow...I have always wanted to do a project just like this. I too am a bit uncomfortable in front of strangers. It's not them that makes me nervous it's the being in front performing part. Love the photos. Love your blog. This post brought tears to my eyes. I just love it.
    I wouldn't really like my photo being taken so much, I would not like giving my name but if I got a bit comfortable and started to get to know the person just a little bit...then maybe. :)

  74. That's awesome! Both that you have a list, and that you are actually doing it!

    When I was a Journalism major, we had specific assignments to photograph strangers. Young, old, weathered. Each assignment had a specific "theme." It was TERRIFYING, but the interactions were priceless...even the ones that included expletives.

    Two things I learned: 1) age=beauty, and 2) take the time to smile at a stranger

  75. what a story, i like this!
    good luck, it sounds great.

  76. Hey, this is exactly the same thing I was thinking about during my last trip around the world... I'd love taking pics of strangers, because sometimes you run into very interesting people and it's really frustrating not being able to simply ask for permission, when in the end you simply try to steal some nice shot... that makes me feel unconfortable! And yes, if someone would ask me, I'd feel really weird....which is why I give up in the end.. But your move is really smart, congrats! I'll read suggestions and try myself to overcome my shyiness... :

    Cheers from Italy!

  77. I just discovered your blog, and this post really resonated with me! I'm a pastel/watercolor artist, that has always fantasized about taking photos of strangers & then making paintings from the photos. You've given me incentive to actually do this some day! Thank you!

  78. this is freakin' brilliant.