Tag Archives: portraits

100 Strangers – Set 1

100-Strangers-Matrix.jpgHere they are… my 100 Strangers family in one image. It’s been an amazing journey.

Most all of my previous creative pursuits have involved me working alone in a room… usually in front of a computer. Learning to paint was a breath of fresh air, but still I was spending my time alone (just in a different room). After experimenting with painting many different subjects, I found myself drawn to painting portraits of people.

During this time I was puzzled as to why I was so attracted to playing Pokémon Go. Then I realized… it wasn’t actually the game itself but just getting outside and having an adventure. When I learned about the 100 Strangers Project, it immediately clicked in my mind that this was the adventure I needed to pursue instead.

It’s hard to put into words what this project has meant to me. It’s certainly made me a better photographer, but it was the human interaction that made it all worthwhile. I’m an introvert, so the prospect of approaching complete strangers on the street was a bit daunting. To my surprise, I discovered that it’s something I’m pretty good at.

I assumed that the vast majority of the strangers I approached would say no and that I’d have to push through tons of rejection to find a willing participant. To my surprise, I found the exact opposite. Of course there were people who declined (maybe less than 20), but they were almost always friendly.

One of the biggest benefits of this project is that it forces you to focus your attention on other people as opposed to yourself and your ego (which might be the source of much of our unhappiness). You cannot help but be challenged and be humbled by all of the people you meet. Some are well off, some are getting by and some are struggling in ways that I can’t even imagine. Generally speaking, we all want the same thing.

Looking at this image of 100 strangers makes me smile. I remember their names, where I met them, their personalities, their challenges and their dreams. Some have become friends. Some I keep up with on social media. For the vast majority, I have no contact with them at all. I hope they are all able to see their portraits (or will discover them sometime in the future), and I hope it makes them smile too.

Stranger 100/100 – Imani

100 Strangers - ImaniStranger 100/100 – Imani

“Give back to the community… go out and help other people.”

Meet Imani.

What advice would you give to your younger self? “Don’t drink so much… stay away from that. Really just focus more instead of going out so often, partying, and just be a little more determined. I’m a pretty determined person, hard worker, but just being consistent and not becoming complacent and stagnant… I would definitely give myself that advice.”

What are you focusing on now? “On my career. Honestly, my freshman year of school… I just came back…”

From where? “ECU… it was a party school. I removed myself from the party life, the situation, and I came back home. I started working for a consulting firm, and it’s been up from there.”

Tell me about your career… “So, I’m in school for criminal justice minoring in business marketing. I’m actually married, and my husband and I we’re opening up an enterprise together with four different companies umbrellaed underneath. I’m also getting into trading stocks. I’m doing a day-trading academy right now.”

It’s an interesting time to be trading since the markets have been up for so long… “It is, but it’s a perfect time to strengthen my strategies and the different markets that I’m trading in. Maybe in the futures market it’s not that great of a time to trade, but, if you’re doing day-trading, it’s different.”

What is your biggest challenge right now? “My biggest challenge would definitely be the separation between my husband and I. So, it’s been a difficult time.”

What is the biggest misconception people have about you? “A lot of people don’t like to talk to me because they think that I’m stuck up at first… or that I’m just a partier. I have that connotation because I worked at clubs and bars for so long, but that’s definitely not me at all.”

If you could put a billboard up in Charlotte, what would it say? “It’s just a very selfish society that we live in nowadays, and I would definitely say to give back to the community and to go out and help other people.”

Technical Notes: We were in the shade of a building, and I used a small reflector to even the light on Imani’s face.

Stranger 99/100 – Kevin

Stranger-99-Kevin.jpgStranger 99/100 – Kevin

“I want to make a name for myself. I want people to know me.”

Meet Kevin.

What advice would you give to your younger self? “Take school extremely seriously. High school, middle school… all of it.”

What is your biggest challenge right now? “Maintaining… keeping a steady pace.”

What’s keeping you from doing that? “Myself… not being disciplined.”

What are your goals? Where do you want to be in ten years? “In ten years… I want to make a name for myself. I want people to know me. I want to make an impact… at least for my family.”

What’s the plan? “I do a little music right now… hip-hop, rap.”

What’s the biggest misconception people have about you? “I don’t know… people just ask me if I’m ok… like I have a mean face all the time. I don’t really talk to a whole lot of people. I just keep to myself.“

If you could put a billboard up in Charlotte, what would it say? “Life goes on.”

Are you active in the music scene yet? “I’m just writing. I haven’t stepped into the studio just yet, but I’ve been writing a lot of stuff.”

What advice would you give to people starting out in music? “Never give up honestly. Nowadays you can really go viral… you just gotta keep going. Even when you feel like you’re not going so good… you’re not gaining fans… even if it takes years, just keep going. Even people who are big now, it took them years. You just gotta keep pursuing it and getting better and better and finding that new thing that people like.”

Technical Notes: It was a cloudy day, and I used a reflector below Kevin’s face to even out the light. Despite the processed look, I barely edited this portrait at all in Lightroom. This was the rare case where the subject, lighting and background all came together at the same time.

Stranger 98/100 – Quay

100 Strangers - QuayStranger 98/100 – Quay

“You gotta go make some moves as far as making a legacy for yourself before you leave the Earth.”

Meet Quay.

What advice would you give to your younger self? “Whatever you plan on doing in the future as a passion or a career or job, whatever, just make sure you go hard… 110%.”

Have you always done that? “Lately I have… not always.”

What made you clue in to that? “Because reality sinks in, and you realize you can’t just sit around procrastinating. You gotta go make some moves as far as making a legacy for yourself before you leave the Earth… because you know you have to go at some point.”

What is your biggest challenge right now? “Trying to make it music-wise. I make music so… Trying to make it as an artist today with so many more emergent artists coming out everyday… it’s kinda hard.”

Tell me about your music…. “Basically, I just talk about my lifestyle. I don’t talk about killin’ people and none of that stuff that the majority of these people who make rap music or hip-hop music talk about nowadays. I talk about things that people can relate to.”

So authenticity is important? “Exactly.”

What are your goals? Where do you want to be in ten years? “I just want to be living comfortably… as little worries as possible.”

If you could put a billboard up in Charlotte, what would it say? “It would say something about unity… not just one’s own race, but all races. If you look at society today whites they stick together with they own race, not to say that they don’t help others, but… that’s how it just go… races stick together. But, if it all comes together… I think the world will be a better place as far as unity goes.”

Technical Notes: I used a reflector to add light to Quay’s face. I did my best to reduce the glare in his glasses, but I couldn’t find an angle where there wasn’t a lot of glare.

Stranger 97/100 – Atiyah

100 Strangers - AtiyahStranger 97/100 – Atiyah

“I’m just so eager for that next level in my life…”

Meet Atiyah.

What advice would you give to your younger self? “I would definitely tell myself that everything that you desire… just be patient. Be prayerful and be patient most of all. I feel like I’ve tried to speed up the process, and the process takes time. Anything that you want to be great… it takes time.”

How did you learn that? “Time… and I have a lot of wise people in my life that have mentored me, and I’m grateful for them.”

What is your biggest challenge right now? “It’s so weird because I just gave my younger self that advice about being patient, and I’m still working on that. I’m just so eager for that next level in my life, my career and right now I’m in preparation for it. I’m just setting myself up for it and… I’m anxious.”

So that begs the question: what are your goals? Where do you want to be in ten years? “In ten years, I hope to have my own business, make-up service, where I can, you know, just work behind the scenes… setting up to work, to go do make-up jobs. That’s what I’m doing now… I’m being sent out to do the make-up jobs. So, in ten years, I want to be doing the sending out.”

If you could put a billboard up in Charlotte, what would it say? “Limitless. I feel like there a limitless possibilities in life.”

What is the biggest misconception people have about you? “A lot of people don’t understand me because I’m very assertive. I guess my mean business face looks like I’m mad, but I just mean business that’s all.”

Technical Notes: I used a small LED panel to reduce the shadows on the right side of Atiyah’s face.

Stranger 96/100 – Jay

100 Strangers - JayStranger 96/100 – Jay

“You’re the only person that can be responsible for your own happiness.”

Meet Jay.

What advice would you give to your younger self? “I would say that, at the end of the day, you’re the only person that can be responsible for your own happiness. Everybody goes through their respective struggles, but what makes the difference is how you choose to handle that… how you choose to get back up again. And the moment that you decide that you can’t get up again is where you’ve lost.”

Nice… did you practice for this? “No. {laughs}”

What is your biggest challenge right now”? “My biggest challenge is… finding a dream that’s worth working for. I moved out here for work… in this treadmill of work here… providing value for somebody else. And the things I want to do for myself, my dreams, have gotten lost by the wayside. The passion I used to have when I was younger is gone because of this work. So, now I’m trying to save. I’m trying to get some studio time… I do music. I’m trying to pursue that dream and put it at the forefront of my life rather than having it on the back burner.”

Where do you want to be in ten years? “I would want to be a semi-successful musician and model.”

What kind of music do you make? “I began my music career as a jazz musician. I play drums, guitar, bass and piano. In college I took to producing, mixing, mastering, rapping… I’ve always sang, but years of smoking have caught up to me, so I’m not as great a singer as I used to be or as I could have been. But I do still rap, so what I create is kind of an alternative hip-hop. I don’t really fit into any given genre because I don’t want to tell the same stories. I mean talking about money is cool, you know, if you have it, but I’d rather talk abut things that are real and that I’ve experienced.”

If you could put a billboard up in Charlotte, what would it say? “I’d probably put in really big letters ‘Think’. It’s not a lot to go off of, so any meaning that you draw from it is purely internal.”

Technical Notes: I had taken some photos using a reflector before we stepped into the doorway for the interview. During the interview, I noticed how amazing the light and shadow s looked on Jay’s face. I asked him if I could take another shot, and this is the result with no lights or modifiers.

Stranger 95/100 – Emaan

100 Strangers - EmaanStranger 95/100 – Emaan

“I’m just sort of trying to find something that I like doing… I haven’t found it yet.”

Meet Emaan.

What advice would you give to your younger self? “I feel like I don’t even know yet. I guess that it’s ok not to have everything planned out.”

So, when you were younger, you wanted everything in a certain way? “Yeah… tried to plan everything out and scheduled everything.”

Did something change that? “No, just the plans not working out… life happening… realizing that I can be open to other possibilities.”

What is your biggest challenge right now… getting through this interview? “{laughs} I don’t know… being more comfortable. Also realizing that if everything does make me uncomfortable then that’s ok… I have to do it anyways.”

What are your goals? Where do you want to be in ten years? “Independent. Career-wise… doing something that I enjoy that I can make a living off of. I’m just sort of trying to find something that I like doing… I haven’t found it yet.”

If you could put a billboard up in Charlotte, what would it say? “I really would want it to say nothing… maybe a nice picture or something. I feel like I get too distracted trying to read stuff.”

What picture would it be? “A picture of what was directly behind the billboard.”

What is the biggest misconception people have about you? “Maybe that I’m not friendly… that maybe I’m too standoffish.”

Technical Notes: I used a small LED panel to add light to Emaan’s face.

Stranger 94/100 – Matt

100 Strangers - MattStranger 94/100 – Matt

“The number of times I regularly get asked if I have any weed…”

Meet Matt.

What advice would you give to your younger self? “I feel like the things I didn’t know were part of what made me who I am today. I don’t know that I would want to tell my younger self anything.”

What is your biggest challenge right now? “Being able to say no to really good things for even better things. I think that would be my… the thing I’m wrestling the most with right now.”

What are your goals? Where do you want to be in ten years? “{laughs} We laugh because we just had this conversation a couple days ago. In ten years our daughter is going to be out of high school. I don’t know. I’m trying to figure that one out right now too. I know that, right now, I’m doing what I need to be doing, what I’ve been called to do, so I’m going to keep doing that until I know that next piece. Right now it’s the figuring out how much do I wait for it and how much do I go out and try to figure it out… try to get there myself. I love what I do.”

“So I work part-time at a school teaching music… I teach songwriting and beat making and music production. I taught math for eleven years. I love my school. I love my co-workers. I love my students. I work part-time at a church… also on the music front.”

What is the biggest misconception people have about you? “The number of times I regularly get asked if I have any weed… I got nothing… sorry man. That’s a fairly regular misconception. I get asked if I’m in high school a lot. I’ve been teaching high school for a long time.”

If you could put a billboard up in Charlotte, what would it say? “There’s more.”

Technical Notes: It was an overcast day, so I used my small LED panel to light up Matt’s face.

Stranger 93/100 – Derrick

100 Strangers - DerrickStranger 93/100 – Derrick

“Check your spiritual capital…”

Meet Derrick.

What advice would you give to your younger self? “You should read The Bible so you’ll know who the father is in heaven, and you’ll know how things began. So, if you ever run into a situation like me of being shelter-less… because we’re really not homeless because you’re homeless in heaven. So sometimes god is sending you in the streets like boot camp.”

“So the advice is keep the faith, have ethics, try to be as honest as you can, work hard and don’t let nobody discourage you.”

What’s the biggest misconception people have about shelter-less people? “They think they’re all trifling and don’t want to work, and it’s not true.”

“Some people have been homeless in cars. Some people have been homeless in the sticks… the sticks is when you’re sleeping outside on a bench… and in the woods.“

“You actually give a shit because you’re trying to talk to people. You’re not trying to take advantage… you’re trying to understand what’s making their clock tick, what’s happening, what’s the truth.”

“I’ve found the churches spend 98% on administration costs and half a percent on actually helping the people.”

“Now the church is given $10,000 every time they pick a busload up, every two weeks, each church. But it still leaves some people out in the cold because the men’s shelter is a biohazard, and it just closed a month ago. They have no shelter because Urban Ministry is closed, but yet they’re government funded. Now, they have money for housing that they could give to the people that are homeless, but they chose to give it to the church who let them stay one or two nights. Instead of giving it to them, they give it to the church to keep them homeless, so the people who work there can pay for their cars and their houses. In other words, it’s a business… if we get them off the street then, hell, we don’t have a job. So, it shouldn’t be like that.”

Technical Notes: It was an overcast day, so I used my small LED panel to light up Derrick’s face (and give him a nice catch light in the eyes).

Stranger 92/100 – Amala

Stranger-92-Amala.jpgStranger 92/100 – Amala

“Relationships are the reason why we exist.”

Meet Amala.

What advice would you give to your younger self? “Just live and enjoy the moment. Everything will be fine. Just live! {Laughs} You don’t have to get married before you’re thirty. You don’t have to have kids. You don’t have to ride the styles. You don’t have to have this job. You can be happy without any of that.”

How did that become clear to you? “I read a lot, so reading and getting to hear other people’s perspective. I follow a lot of world news. I’m in finance, so for me it’s always interesting how people equate money to happiness, and that’s never going to stop because that’s what you’re bombarded with in your day-to-day lives. I’m like you… I love talking to strangers and getting their perspective. Expose your mindset to different ways of thinking. That’s the most important thing.”

So you’re a believer in the idea that we’re not set in stone from birth but that we can learn and change? “Absolutely. The things you find hardest in life are the things you don’t want to change. So, if you really want something, you can develop your mindset and you can cultivate to the person you want to be. It’s not impossible.”

What is your biggest challenge right now? “Making sure that my family is happy… taken care of. Relationships are the reason why we exist. Loneliness can cause sickness, so when you break that connection you have with other people, it will come back to haunt you. So, my goal is just to make sure that my family maintains our closeness.”

If you could put a billboard up in Charlotte, what would it say? “Laugh… smile. I want it to be a big naked person who is just laughing so hard that it looks like they’re on top of the world. Even though society doesn’t agree with that image, you see this person is truly happy in their form.”

Technical Notes: We were under a covered walkway, so I used my small LED panel to add more light to Amala’s face.