“Goodbye, I’ll probably never see you again,” is not a great closing line, regardless of your circumstances. Although, I will say that if you have recently run over someone’s cat with your car, you may want to console the victim by saying – aside from replacing their cat – that they won’t have to see your face again.
Anyways, since I hadn’t just killed any cats, telling the friends I had made while living in Scotland that I most likely would never see them again wasn’t really something I was looking forward to doing – so I never did. Instead I decided to approach them separately and see if they would be willing to create a portrait together. In my opinion, creating a portrait collaboratively necessitates the fostering and expression of a relationship. I wanted to incorporate some aspect of written words into each photograph, but chose to let the models decide which words and where to put them.
So here they are, our four portraits, my secret farewells, and the illustrations of five extraordinary people…
Trust me, this guy is nuts. Look at him back there behind that hand of his. I mean honestly, who would ever say, “does this help me grow in love”? But that’s Gerald for you; the ultimate compartmentalizer of relationships, commitments, and values. Although he is nuts, he is also one of my dearest friends. At the moment this photograph was created, Gerald had centered himself around the desire to increase the amount of love in his life. So he simply decided to approach every decision he encountered with this question in his head. It is no wonder it was his answer to my question, “what one phrase captures your current mental state?”
What a goof-ball. Charlotte never did let a chance go by to tease me about my hair or opinions on dating. But that was okay – she fascinated me. A conversation shared with this girl – who had no home, one trunk with all her possessions in it, and a padawan braid tucked behind her left ear – was not something you stumbled across every time you got in line for a morning cup of coffee. Honestly though, she taught me so much about humility, simplicity, and community. That’s why I insisted on having everyone at the pancake breakfast write one word that expressed Charlotte’s place in our shared community on her hand.
3. Junyuan Rao
In case you, like me, have not yet learned how to read Mandarin, Rao chose to write “made in China” on his fingers. Rao is an interesting man, and one who challenged my preconceived notions of both foreign exchange students and dumplings. During my final few weeks in Scotland, Rao invited a handful of people over to his flat for a traditional Chinese meal. My previous exposure to Asian food consisted of pork fried rice on New Year’s Eve and chicken wings from the mall’s food court. Rao labored over the food for much of the day and served up an incredible dinner, marking the end of a great year. My friendship with him begin when he decided to explore Catholicism. Over the course of the year, Rao and I spent a great deal of time discussing sensitive moral issues and along the way we became friends. The portrait we created illustrates the complex relationship Rao has with his past and his future. The juxtaposition between his nationality and his chosen faith is depicted by the rosary beads in his hand and the characters inked onto his fingers.
4. Sarah and Conner
For some reason nowadays, we call it ‘old fashioned’ love. The kind where you get excited to hold the other’s hand, when you formally ask them if they want to date you, and where you appreciate all the little flaws in the other. Unfortunately, today this is harder and harder to come by; in a culture dominated with hookups and friends with benefits, this ‘old fashioned’ love is almost forgot. I don’t want to brag, but I was the first person to know about Sarah and Conner’s relationship. I bet it is because I am so trustworthy, or because I have an inherently high emotional intelligence, or simply because I bumped into them one night as they strolled around town holding hands. Either way, Sarah, Conner, and I developed a strong friendship, one where I was able to witness their relationship grow and their ‘old fashioned’ love develop. Why ‘hope’? Because of their shared hope for the future, and because of my hope for them.
Well there you have it, four portraits, five people, and one Fujifilm x100s. During this process, I truly came to appreciate the optical viewfinder on my x100s. Interacting and engaging with my friends while in the context of the photoshoot was essential for me, and being able to see beyond the frame lines helped me feel grounded in the scene. The small and subtle body of the camera coupled with the optical viewfinder freed me up to continue to discuss the mood of the image or the message we were collaboratively attempting to present.
“Goodbye, I’ll probably never see you again,” is most definitely a terrible closing line, but how about, “until next time my friend.” That is what these portraits say to me; not goodbye, but rather I’ll see you later. Capturing a relationship with one photograph is not an easy task, but having my x100s by my side made it that much more manageable … and fun.