We (the seven of us as a group) have decided to have dinner tonight at the other end of town, so we start off as a group.
As we pass the plaza where the old men sit during the day, I notice the stairs in front of the church are filled with teens playing cards. There are people hanging out everywhere, actually, and would make a cool photo. . . . but it is busy and filled with people and almost dusk and we are on our way to dinner. I don’t even pull out my camera.
I’m just a short way farther down the street when someone from our group runs up behind me: “Do you have your camera? Rick needs a camera.” I dutifully turn around and trot back to the piazza where Rick grabs my camera, asks a quick question about my settings, and starts shooting.
He hands the camera back to me and tells me to walk DIRECTLY up to the card playing teenagers and photograph them.
I do so (sort of) with Rick’s voice following softly (but insistently) behind me. “Move closer.” “Closer!” “Over there – no on the other side.”
He never yells, but the quiet intensity carries through the chaos of the people moving about and around the plaza as the evening la passeggiata gets underway.
The kids on the stairs don’t care that they are being photographed, but I must not be getting it right because soon Rick materializes at my elbow, asks for my camera and begins shooting from a different angle.
It takes me a minute to realize he has spotted a couple kissing.
“Get ready. They’re going to do it again.”
They do, but I’m not really ready. And they don’t really want to be photographed.
I look around for other options.
Rick is clearly disgusted with me.
“See those girls over there? Go right up to them.. . . closer!”
Have I mentioned that all of this is so far out of my comfort zone that I might as well have landed on another planet? That I’m the sort of photographer who seeks out empty landscapes and will patiently wait an almost unlimited amount of time for people to move out of my viewfinder? That I’m not comfortable photographing family and friends, let alone strangers on the street? That I feel I’m violating the privacy of someone crossing the street a half-block away if I include them in my photograph?
That one of my goals for this class was to learn to photograph people?
The girls are a little freaked out by my photographing them at such close range. They laugh nervously, turn away, and then turn back. I’m laughing nervously too, which might help put them at ease. . . or not. But I take their willingness to turn back toward me as permission to continue shooting.
One of the boys with them is totally comfortable in front of the camera – a little embarrassed, but clearly ok with being the center of attention. I want the girls to follow his example and relax a little. At least I want them to see that they don’t need to be scared.
The girls still don’t know what to think.
I’m also exhilarated, absolutely totally exhilarated. It’s probably the adrenaline, but I have just done something I never thought I could do. I don’t even care if the pictures don’t turn out – I now know that I can photograph complete strangers at close range. I really can do it. THIS WAS SO COOL!
Rick gives me the classroom part of the lesson over dinner at Charlie’s, telling me what to look for to stay out of trouble, reminding me that in many places it would not be safe to this, cautioning me to be careful when shooting like this. It is equal parts photo lesson and parental lecture.
No matter how the rest of the week goes, I just got my money’s worth. And Rick is my new favorite person.
The pizza is pretty good too.