Stranger 23

I’ve been about ready to throw in the towel lately on this project and call it complete. There is a certain level of anxiety with asking someone for their portrait, and there is a certain level of disappointment at the rejections. The conversations are not that hard to initiate for me, it’s asking for their picture that brings the real challenge.

So I was in Belleville doing a little scouting for a photo walk that I will be hosting in October. (More information here if you are interested. Its free!) Near the end of the walk, I ran into a guy who was perfect for my project. A real interesting face, with lots of character.

We chatted about photos and old camera systems, films vs. digital, a great conversation. One that I felt was a perfect prelude to asking for his portrait. When I talked about the project and how I take portraits of strangers, I could immediately see his demeanour change. He knew where I was going with this, and he wanted no part of it. So when I asked if he would be willing to take part, I wasn't too surprised when he said no.

He was curious about the project though, so I thought, maybe I can work this guy into agreeing. After several more minutes showing him other portraits I took, he was not budging, it was time to move on.

The nature of the project doesn’t allow for me to share much about the encounters that didn’t quite happen, so this blog gives me a good platform to share that.

That guy declining to participate really made me think that I was done with this. But when I mentioned this to my mental health care provider, she helped me reframe it, and encouraged me to continue on despite the bump.

Of course I know that continuing is good, and that one negative reaction is not something to get concerned over. But I also know that my brain doesn't always agree with what I otherwise know to be true. I know that sounds strange, but I’m sure many of you out there know what I mean.

So to make this long story longer, I reluctantly kept at it, and I finally got a taker.

Ellena and I were headed for a quick pit stop at a newly opened specialty doughnut shop in Toronto called Donut Monster. It is located just north of Fort York in the King West area of Toronto, in this funky little market that I had never noticed before. I’ve been in this area often photographing and can’t remember this being here before.

It’s a large block of the city with several shops, all housed in small, repurposed shipping containers. You can check them out here So after dropping Ellena off at school, I headed back down there to check the rest of the place out.

This is where I ran into Peru.

When I first encountered him, he was wincing in pain as I walked by him. I asked if he was ok, he said that he injured his leg skateboarding a while back and had just bumped the injury while on his step ladder. He was busy spray painting a mural on one of the containers. I went on my way and explored the rest of the complex, then thought I should try to ask him if he was interested in the project.

I did a ‘fly by’ right past him again, but chickened out and kept going. I turned back and tried one more pass, and I think this time he had was aware that I was circling, so I asked about his work.

He gave me a rather unique business card that was a round sticker, and explained that he does this for a living. He told me that his work has allowed him to travel quite extensively, having done work in 40 different countries! His site is if you want to check out his work!

I mentioned about my admiration for the skill involved in spray paint art. He said that painting on these containers was challenging because of the corrugated surface, it makes it hard to paint a straight line as it moves up and down the wavy surface.

He is now in Toronto with his wife and young kids, and basically saving up enough money for the next move. At this point I told him about the project and he was more than happy to take part. When they first moved to Toronto, he told me that his wife did a similar thing to get to know the city and its people.

We chatted a bit more about places he’s been, then I thanked him and let him get back to what he was doing. I chose to present his portrait in black and white because I like black and white, and I haven’t done one in a while.

Hopefully Peru gets to move again soon, perhaps somewhere in South America?

Peru. A graffiti mural artist that I met in Toronto, and stranger #23.

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