If I had any doubt that Peter knows me well, this challenge dispelled it. I had eulogised about loving being out with a camera and taking pictures. That joy was displaced with a mild panic as I learnt of what he had in mind.
Why should I feel so uncomfortable? I can hold a conversation; I am not pirate king, gnarly and threatening. Capture Happiness is a positive venture. It’s not like I am producing a book on village idiots of London that seeks to sneer at my subjects.
I pondered this for a while and it really it comes down to perspective and state of mind. I suppose that I have a rather dim world view and I am very on guard when any stranger approaches me and gets in my personal space.
Hate is too strong a word – I hate eating liver and Donald Trump. This is more fervent dislike. When I have to approach someone and get in their space, I project my own unease onto them. It feels like an incursion on their day and space. This aura is clearly visible – as almost without fail, the seat next to me on the bus is the last one taken. Also, much to friends’ amusement, I cannot smile on demand and when I try it is not great. What I think is my cheer-filled, smiling approach is probably closer to the tortured grimace of the Joker.
Anyway, I had to do it, so off I trotted with my camera. As I hit the outside world it felt great. I walked, then caught the bus into town. I observedkeenly. Walked. Then walked a bit more. Before I knew it, at least two hours has passed and I hadn’t taken a single picture. Why?
My idea was to focus on a link to things that made people happy. Food, books, music and so on. I had seen a couple of great characters in a barber shop and a record store, but I just couldn’t seem to be able to cross the threshold and ask – it felt like invading. Other subjects I dismissed as not good enough or not relevant enough, but I think in most cases that was me coming up with an excuse.
I finally found a street artist. She wanted to know what the picture was for. I showed her the site and she was more than happy to oblige. Elated I then took on a card shop as I saw a good subject in there and again he was happy to let me take their photo. The weather closed in, so I decided to call it quits and get out the following afternoon…
….and the weather was biblically awful. I managed to get a shot of a nice group of people who worked in a pop-up style café. Travelling to the South Bank I managed to take one picture of a seagull before I was washed home by the deluge. So, what did I learn?
1. When I reflected on my efforts, I realised that getting out of the house alone had rendered it a success. I work from home, so something else to focus on and a reason to hit the streets was hugely positive.
2. It’s hard to walk up to people and ask to take their photo. Don’t think you’re alone in this. However, I am pretty sure that is in your mind and if you get knocked back don’t take it personally. It’s not about you.
3. Don’t feel like you have to take the perfect shot and keep ruling things out. It might be an easy way for you to escape approaching someone. Take the shot and then decide if works.
4. Don’t be disheartened when you don’t capture something you love. There is a lot of luck involved. Weather can get in the way. You need to get out there and be prepared to come home with nothing, as I did on that second day. However, when you do get something, that feeling that you worked for it makes it all the more special.
5. Finally, one thing I loved is that while walking around London for a few hours I didn’t look at my phone. I spent all my time trying to find subjects and looking for things that piqued my interest. That disengagement with a screen felt good and you certainly notice a lot going on in the world around you that you normally would not see. So, get out there and give it a go.