After a few exposures I noticed the blue empty bottle of cider on the grass beside him and decided to leave it there in the frame. Perhaps you didn’t know it was a cider bottle before I told you and perhaps you also didn’t know that he was slightly inebriated when this image was made but we both now know that the bottle wasn’t his.
But I left the bottle in the frame.
We saw him from a distance, meandering down the road, within slow considered movements of feet that didn’t raise far from off the ground.
His feet taking off yet never reaching escape velocity before falling back to earth. He seemed like a man who was falling at that moment, at least, just at that moment; as I don’t know him - I will never know him. But he greeted us with a smile, warmth and patience and he let me photograph him alongside a road that saw cars drive by into worlds that I would never know.
Photographers take and rarely give back much, if anything, in return to those they are taking from. We often use words such as collaboration, empathy and bearing witness, to the lives of others but above all we take. Take that which isn’t ours and then appropriate it to our ends and means. No matter how well intentioned, socially concerned or earnest - we come first.
So why do people, strangers, submit themselves to this? To be photographed by me? What do they gain? Perhaps, for them, it isn’t about gain. It’s about making a connection, about being intrigued by the interest of a stranger - in them - and the thoughts that someone, outside of this moment, will see them, know them. Will see that they exist; that they are here and not invisible.
Or they could just be inebriated.
Yet, this is my portrait; it’s not his, it will never be his. I will always come first in the relationship between myself and him and you - the viewer. You will always look towards me and the clues that I have given you to make sense of him. I will be the one who shares the anecdotes, the one who paints the scene and controls how you read him. I will be the one who anchors and then damns him by the word ‘inebriated’. I’ve controlled him - and you - by that word. I have created the context for him to be appraised, dissected, consumed. I’ve changed your perception of him, or maybe only reinforced it, as portraits are always constructed. Either by the photographer or by the viewer - but they are always constructs. They can only tell us what we want to see or what we think we already know. Besides, how can one expect a 125th of a second exposure, taken during a 5 minute encounter, with a stranger, to reveal any more than that?
But we do.
We always do.