Seeking Out Strangers
We had traveld down to Roseburg, from Eugene, to watch my girlfriends brother graduate from Umpqua Community College. I brought with me my camera, as I always do, but I did not expect to meet anyone for the SOS project. We battled for our parking spot, and then danced our way through the large crowd to find a spot in the seating area, which was outside in an amphitheater on campus. We sat directly behind Tommy and his family. Tommy and his wife had traveled from Montana to watch their daughter graduate the nursing program at UCC.
Shortly after we found our seating, Tommy turned around a started up a conversation with me. He explained to me who he came here for, and where they came from. I knew that I had to dig a little and find more out about Tommy, even though I didn't think I would be able to make his photo given the timing.
Tommy talked with me about how he used to be a mechanic in Portland, Oregon on USPS mail sorting machines. A job I was quick to inform him at one point put Charles Bukowski out of work. Bukowski used to sort mail in his younger years before the sorting machines made the job unnecessary.
Tommy also told me about the beautiful homestead that his wife and he took over from his mother in law after she passed away. He explained how he never gets bored with a project like a Montana homestead from the early 1900's.
The ceremony was starting, and people were finding their seats. I asked Tommy if I could make a quick photo before the ceremony began, in which he agreed. I had time to actuate one shutter before they started the ceremony. One shutter that captured a memory, and story, of an amazing gentleman.
It's lunch time, and we are on the hunt for a new place to try in Eugene, since we are still very new here. A quick google search leads us to Tio Pepe. A Mexican restaurant on River Rd in Eugene. The parking lot was empty, but the open sign was on, so we grabbed a parking spot up front, and made our way inside.
Once inside, Alfredo welcomed us, and walked us through his restaurant to a comfortable booth. Alfredo seemed nervous, but I assumed it might just be a busy day. In fact, Alfredo had recently bought the restaurant, and I now can see he may just have been still finding his footing in the restaurant business.
The food, and service, was fantastic. We kept talking amongst ourselves at the booth about how good everything was. I knew at this point, after seeing the bar, and meeting Alfredo, that I wanted to talk with him some, and make his portrait as part of the Seeking Out Strangers project.
After finishing out food, and paying our bill, I told Alfredo about my project, and that I would love to talk with him about himself, and learn some about him, and his everyday life. He was happy to take the time and speak with me.
Alfredo is originally from Oaxaca, Mexico. He now lives in Eugene, Oregon, and had just purchased the restaurant within the last six months. I could feel his excitement about this new adventure as I was listening to him talk about his future plans for the restaurant. He planned to have new to-go menus, as well as children's menus for coloring. He had just recently got a gift card system in place, and the register was a more modern apple ipad set up. He also used a tablet for taking out order.
We loved out experience at Tio Pepe, and meeting Alfredo. Can't wait to go back!
My day started by meeting with a friend to explore Eugene some, and look for interesting people to meet. We were, in a sense, seeking out strangers. Blake, my friend, and guide on this day, took me for a walk all around downtown Eugene, Showing me some amazing architecture, and new restaurants to try out. I had yet to stop and talk with anyone, as I was preoccupied with just taking in all of the sites. We made our way to the Pioneer Cemetery on the University of Oregon campus, and as we crested the hill, and came into view of a grassy field between campus buildings. I could see a small group of people in the field, doing what I assumed at the time as LARPing (Live Action Roll Playing) and Blake and I immediately looked at each other. "I think that's your shot" Blake exclaimed.
We went over to the group and met Tammas, Tank, Audrey, and Dalton. They were in fact not LARPing, but practicing a more medieval combat society. I learned they were a group that goes by Tir na nog, and practiced here twice a week. We talked about their weapons and shields, as well as their garment. They explained how the rules work (or lack there of) and what type of events are held for groups like this.
We all had a sit in the grass and talked about their group, as well as past battles they have been in together. We talked about the construction of their weapons, and the rules they had when using those weapons.
I want to give a huge thank you to Tammas, Tank, Audrey, and Dalton, as well as Blake for taking me out. I'm glad I was able to learn some about this group, and I look forward to bumping into them again in the near future. Who knows, maybe ill bring a sheild along next time...
I have driven by the rock climbing wall near Spencers Butte several times since moving to Eugene. Each time I comment on how I would love to stop and photograph the climbers. Each time, I pass by, and always regret it.
On this day, there were fewer people at the wall than there normally are. I told my girlfriend Mercedes that if those to people (pointing towards Ben and another gentleman) were still there when we were done playing at the park, I would stop.
On the way home, I spotted the familiar tie dye shirt and trucker hat from earlier in the day. I immediately pulled over. Ben was alone, and about to start his ascent up the wall. I waited patiently at the bottom of the wall for him to repel down.
My first thought when I saw Ben was he looked to be a student. Possibly at University of Oregon, since we were in Eugene. He looked like any other student I would see on campus.
When Ben completed his descent, I quickly walked over and introduced myself. I asked him about climbing, and how often he goes. I was surprised to find out he wasn't just some student at the UofO. He was studying physics, and had been studying astro physics. He took the time to tell me about the joy he finds in climbing, and i could see that this was in some way, not an escape, but a sort of balance for him. He said he climbs as often as he can, and it's never as much as he'd like.
Before I left, I asked if I could make his portrait, which he agreed. This project is still an infant in the grand scheme of things, but I am already amazed at how self fullfilling this project has been.
I actually met Peter and his wife, long before the SOS project came together. Making Peter's portrait was a huge influence for me on this project. I am naturally terrible at talking with strangers, and meeting new people, but the allure of photographing strangers has always drew me in.
On a family vacation trip to Florence, Oregon we walked down the board walk, making our way to a coffee shop not far from the pier. While walking the docks, I noticed Peter and his wife, along with their dog, looking at boats on the water. I knew instantly I needed to make his photograph. His attire, and the way he carried himself called to me.
I stood above on the boardwalk, looking down at him for several minutes, trying to convince myself to go down, and introduce myself. At the time, I had just wanted a photo of him, but what I got, was so much more.
I walked down the dock and back up to the top probably three times before I was finally able to make it to the section of the docks Peter and his wife were on. Even then, I photographed the boats, and avoided contacting them. Finally, I knew I had to just dive in. I had to just risk the fact that they may say no, they don't want their photograph taken. I approached them, and introduced myself, and from there, everything seemed to fall into place.
Peter and his wife An'ya were looking for a spot to park their boat, which they lived and worked on full time. They both traveled the Oregon coast writing, and teaching, Tanka poetry. Peter and I had no problem creating banter as we discovered we were both sailors in the United States Navy at one point. We were shipmates.
Fighting the hurtle of talking to this stranger, I was rewarded with an amazing experience that has eventually bloosumed into this project, Seeking Out Strangers.
I decided to walk down to a local pond, as I knew people would often sit on the park benches there, or fish on the trail, and I figured it would be a great opportunity to meet someone new.
As soon as I walked into the parking lot I spotted Pat. He was standing next to his bicycle with two large garbage bags full of what I assume to be bottles and cans. He was rummaging through a backpack set on the ground.
This project is about meeting people, and hearing their stories. I have no agenda on the type of person I meet, nor do I have any bias as to who I will write about. The only time I will choose not to write about a stranger is if they ask me not to, or if I feel the story would cause them harm in some way.
My conversation with Pat started unlike any of my previous experiences. Pat was a little skeptical of me, and my intentions, but that quickly changed as I sat and listened to his story. We formed an unspoken trust with each other, and he shared some parts of his life that i'm sure were not the easiest to share.
Pat is for the most part homeless. Most nights he lives in his van, parked in front of his mother in laws home, with his wife. The day I met Pat his wife had recently been incarcerated. He was out collecting cans and other items off the street in an attempt to raise some money. He explained to me that he was an addict, and that he was just trying to raise enough money to feed his habit.
I spent most of my time just lending an ear to Pat. Listening to some challenges he's faced, and some dreams he has. We talked about how Pat would love to make it to New York at some point in his life, and I encouraged him to do so. I also offed some suggestions for if he wanted to beat his addiction. Pat didn't seem like he was ready to fight his addiction, and I didn't push the subject. My intention was not to save him, but rather listen to him.
Mercedes, Dominic, and I went for a quick dinner one afternoon, and decided it was still to nice out to just go home. So we googled parks near us, and were surprised to find a rose garden very close to us.
As soon as I got out of the car, I could hear David. The garden had a lot of people walking around, and I knew it would be a good time to meet some strangers. I followed my ear and quickly found David playing in the park. I asked him if I could take his photo while he played, and he had no issues with that.
After a moment of listening to David play, he too a break to hydrate, and I took the opportunity to ask more about him. David was a traveler. A lost soul. He explained to me that he spent a lot of his life searching, or pursuing the wrong things. He explained he was just trying to learn more about himself, and to spend time doing more positive things.
David also mentioned he was planning on heading to the rainbow gathering. I had only heard about the rainbow gathering through the news, as a lot of issues seem to be arising on the media about the gathering. I wished David safe travels, and to have fun at the gathering.
I saw David again once more before we left the gardens. Only long enough for Dominic and I to dance to his music for a short time.
Things in July have been very busy for me as far as photography goes. I have been traveling a lot, both for work as well as holidays. Yesterday, I had some time at Spencer Butte park in Eugene, Or and I was able to meet Jon. When I first arrived at the park, I had my eyes peeled for interesting people. Mercedes pointed off into the distance, and asked what these people were doing. "tight rope walking I think. I'm going to go meet them." was my response. The sun back lit the small group of people in the park in the most amazing way. This was late afternoon, and the sun was positioning itself in a perfect setting.
As I arrived by the group of people, it was clear they were in fact walking a slack line, or tight rope. Two young men shared turns balancing the rope. Jon and Broc were both open to talking with me, and explaining what they were doing, as well as allowing me to photograph them doing it.
Jon explained to me that this was a fairly new experience for him, as he hadn't done much of it in the past, but he had decided to give it a shot this Thursday afternoon. He typically enjoys riding his fixed gear bicycle around Eugene.
When asking Jon about his travels, as I often ask people I talk to for Seeking Out Strangers, I learned he has lived on the west coast his entire life, from Seattle, to Arizona, to now Eugene, Oregon. I explained I had just moved to Eugene from Roseburg, and that is when we learned that Jon was actually the brother in law, of a high school classmate of mine. It's funny how this project has not only introduced me to some really cool people, it has now introduced me to people I was already closley linked to.
I met Broc while he and Jon were tight rope walking at Spencer Butte park. Broc caught my attention because of his soft spoken persona. When I started asking Broc about where he was from, and what he was doing, that soft spoken persona shined more so.
Broc had studied recreation sport, and tourism in Illinois, as well as cinematography in Souther Illinois. Instantly I was excited to learn more, and to share with him my love for a cinematic approach to photography. We talked some about my favorite photographers that use a cinematic style, and how when I first saw Broc and Jon walking their line, I instantly thought about a cinematic image.
When I was talking to Broc about travel, he mentioned he had ridden his motorcycle almost 2000 miles of the United States. He and a couple people in his family, including his mother, all had the same motorcycle, and would often ride together. Broc has traveled a lot, but for now, he is settled in the Eugene/Springfield area.
I have noticed that a large majority of the people I meet are travelers. Not the first class plane ticket to Maui travelers. The home sick travelers. The travelers who are more interested in the process of traveling, and what comes along with that, more than a destination.
I have seen Dustin a couple of times, working at a store I often visit, as it is close to my house. When I first saw Dustin, I wanted to photograph him. I can't explain what it is that draws me in about a person, and makes me want to photograph them. I want to believe there is an inherent goodness that resonates from each person I photograph.
Since I started taking photography seriously, there are many moments where I have to stop what I am doing, to make a photo. Even if it is just to shoot a photo on my iphone. I am sure this can be frustrating to some of the people around me, as I am almost always shoving a camera in peoples faces.
When I approach someone for the Seeking Out Strangers project, I always wonder if the person will have something about them that makes a terrific story. Only half of this project is making a photograph. The other half is telling a story about this person. About something interesting they have don, or are doing in their lives. I have come to realize that every person has something interesting about them that can be told, and it simply takes a ten minute conversation of listening, to find these out.
For Dustin, that proved to be true as well. Dustin is a native of Brookings, Oregon. He traveled to Eugene to purse a degree in architecture at the University of Oregon. This journey was cut short as he started a family. Dustin also attended the Gold Academy in San Diego, California. When I asked about golf, you could see the fire in him shine. Golf is something he is obviously passionate about. He recently hit his first hole in one at a gold course near Eugene.
Thank you for allowing me to chat with you Dustin, and allowing me to make your portrait and being a part of the SOS project.
I was excited to go out and photograph on this particular Monday afternoon, for no particular reason. I decided I would stop by High Priestess Piercing and Tattoo and chat with some of the people there about a project i'm planning on starting in the future, and from there I was going to walk the streets in search for a stranger to chat with. I noticed that town seemed to be a little dead. There weren't many people walking around in downtown, and I was feeling a little let down. I decided I would head over to the skate park and maybe try and photograph some of the local skaters.
I had just about given up on finding a stranger for the SOS project. Keep in mind, I try my hardest not to force a portrait. This project isn't about my photography business, and it's not about followers. I am doing this for myself, as well as the people I meet. So if I don't come across someone, that's fine, and that shows with the frequency I post.
As I was driving to the skatepark, I noticed Ronin walking down the road. With a sword at his hip, and his era appropriate attire, I knew I had to at least stop and talk with him. I quickly pulled over and waited for him to make his way to where I parked. In most situations, if at all possible, I leave my camera put away. I don't want the sight of someone carrying a large DSLR towards you to sway the way you view me when I approach you in public. As Ronin approached I asked if I could chat with him some.
I asked Ronin about himself. What was his story? Where was he from? Where was he going? Ronin explained to me that he belonged to the Eugene Order of Steel. A small group of people who don't just dress up. They lived the lifestyle of warriors. Whether that be warriors of an 14th century German swordsmen, or Kenjutsu samurai.
This has been a lifestyle for Ronin for at least the last year. He is paid to perform battles locally in the Eugene area, on top of working a part time job. You can see more about these battles at places like Old Nick's Pub (211 Washington St, Eugene) every other Thursday. There is no admission fee.
Ronin, as well as the other members of Order of Steel are all trained in their respective fighting style. They have invested a lot of time, and money, into learning this craft, and really becoming warriors. This is very apparent when talking with Ronin. He carries himself as a warrior.
I would like to thank Ronin for stopping and talking to me, and allowing me to make his portrait. I look forward to learning more and hopfully photographying the rest of the Order of Steel in the future.
I finally made some time to go out and try and find some strangers for this project. I walked around downtown Eugene, Oregon in hopes of finding an interesting person to chat with. Downtown Eugene had no shortage of interesting people, but most typically when I see the person I want to photograph for this project, I can feel it. I was not feeling it on this trip. I struggled to decide if I was going to photograph a small brawl being handled by the Eugene Police Department, or if I should just head home. I decided to head home.
On my walk back to my car, taking the longest route possible in hopes to possibly find someone on the walk back to my car. I was in luck! As I turned the last corner before where I parked I see Jacob and Debbie doing Acrobatics in an alley, using a newly painted wall as a backdrop for a video. They were filming a clip of them practicing acrobatics. This of course caught my eye and I headed over to talk with them more!
Jacob and Debbie have a passion for acrobatics, as well as making youtube content of their journey at www.youtube.com/jacobbrownacro. You can follow more of Jacob on his instagram @jacobbrownacro
Debbie is the second half of this tango that truly takes two. The way Jacob and Debbie worked together, you could tell they had many hours put into their art. Both Debbie and Jacob spoke passionately about acrobatics, and their adventures documenting their journey for youtube. They also teach acro workshops, classes, and private lessons if you're interested in learning this, and by the looks of their almost 1,000 youtube videos, you can tell they know what they're doing.
Thank you Debbie and Jacob for taking the time to chat with me, and learning more about you!