Ibarionex R. Perello
Raphael on Sunset
© Ibarionex Perello
All rights reserved
If you like making pictures of people, you have likely been inspired to photograph strangers. Whether you are walking down the street or attending a public event, you catch sight of someone whom you know would make a fantastic photograph. However, anxiety and self-doubt take over and you don’t end up making the photograph.
I can’t count the number of times that I experienced that. My heart rate increased; my palms became sweaty. It was the junior high school dance all over again.
More often than not, I would let the moment pass and not get the picture, lamenting what I had missed because I didn’t have the “courage” to try.
What changed? I got sick and tired of regretting that I didn’t get the picture. More importantly, I realized that it was much easier to get over rejection than regret. Though I would be disappointed when someone declined, I didn’t carry a lingering sadness about it.
And to my surprise, I found that most people were very flattered that I wanted to photograph them. In fact more people said yes than said no.
I came to realize that the biggest anxiety revolved not around the moment of rejection, but the build up to actually approaching someone. It was the walking over, opening my mouth and saying something that filled me with the most dread.
So, I created a self-assignment for myself to get over the fear. Every day for months, I would approach a perfect stranger and give him or her a compliment. I wouldn’t go up to them and just ask to take a photograph. Instead, I would offer a nice comment about something about them: their clothing, hair, shoes or smile. It became more than just trying to make a photograph, but learning how to make a connection with another human being.
Though I always had my camera with me, I didn’t always ask to take their photograph. For me, it was more about conditioning myself to make the approach, to have an interaction. I quickly discovered that by showing a sincere interest in someone else it opened the door for a nice encounter and sometimes a wonderful photograph.
I was waiting at a light to cross the street when this man sidled up next to me. I looked at him and said, “Man, I love you hair!” His pompadour, sunglasses and scarf where just wonderful and I let him know that. It was his positive reaction to my comments that let me know that he might be agreeable to being photographed.
I asked him to stand by a colorful wall just a few feet away and took at least a dozen photographs of him of which this is one. In talking to him, I learned he was a singer who performed at a local restaurant. His name is Raphael.
I’ve often found that the reaction to my compliment, especially when it’s perceived as being honest and sincere, opens the door. But best of all, when I do create an image, I often come away with a wonderful encounter that makes whatever photographs I create that much more richer and memorable.