I like brighton taxi drivers. They are full of fruity language and general disdain for any other car on the road that is not driven by a card carrying cabbie. They LOVED me when I drove the wrong way up a one way street. They greeted me with their most colourful expressions of welcome. The loves.
I’d driven down to the city by the sea to meet Lisa. We were partners in crime for the day, giving each other a bit of gumption to take the street portraits we were planning. Sat in a fish & chip shop, gassing away, putting off the moment when you would have to approach a total stranger and say, “can I take your picture?”
You see, there’s a difference between these portraits and the time I spent outside Westminster Abbey the night before the royal wedding. On those pavements, amongst the makeshift campsites, I had captive subjects – a happy audience, often drunk. In Brighton people are rushing places, walking home from work, late to meet a friend. Plus you find yourself fighting an army of seagulls just waiting to plant a dirty bomb on your head.
There were definitely many more knockbacks, but not unkind ones. You become a very keen observer of body language, looking for people that might be willing. You scan the street for light, doorways, colour and texture, but you’re also looking for somewhere with footfall so that you can photograph people as soon as you stop them.
Several fantastic people walked past. And kept walking past, unhindered. I lost my bottle a little bit. It was good to be working alongside Lisa, if only to double dare each other. We took a collective deep breath and got started. If you are honest and straightforward, you don’t give people a reason to distrust you or question what you are doing. Which still amazes me. You say, “Hello, I’m a portrait photographer. Can I take your picture?” And on the whole, people stop, smile and say “yes, ok, why not.”
So the parade of characters begins: our first couple, complete with ice creams, smiles and a bit of cheek, followed by the older man (our perfectly happy model) and then the natty dresser who made me think I was on the streets of New York.
We moved around, looking for different areas, different people walking past. Finally, with the music pumping out of Woo Woo, people streaming past us, we stopped, chatted and photographed people from all over the world. The boys from Columbia, the grad students, and the boys from the sea who couldn’t look straight in to the camera – but when they did, they gave great face.
There were the naturals, the smilers, the gigglers, the stony-faced. But I loved meeting them all. The stories you read in the faces of complete strangers can be strange and wonderful. If you’re lucky, you get a whisper of who they are in a single, distilled moment.