JF Photography

Love: Stranger Series New York City

There is something to be said about going for a walk. I find walking alone especially with a camera can be one of the most calming and exhilarating experiences as a photographer because you never know who or what your going to run into and it forces you to slow down and really look at your surrounding environment. On one particular day as I was just spending the day... you guessed it... walking, I came to the intersection of Tillary street and the entry route onto the Brooklyn bridge. At this intersection I noticed a man walking from car to car as they were stopped at the intersections red light. As I walked a little closer, I noticed the man was quite well dressed and in one arm he had a hand full of the newspapers and in the other hand a stack of ready made six inch pies. Now I have seen people in other countries selling flowers, fruit, and even tombstones to people in parked cars but never pie and the daily news from a single person. As I made my way over to the side of the road where he was conducting his business with the temporarily stopped cars, it was surprising to see he was making quite a few sales in the short amount time I had since noticed him. The street light turned green, the cars drove away, and the man waited patiently along the side of the road for the next set of traffic to stop at the lights. I walked over to see this man and asked him what he was selling. It turned out to be sweet potato pies and the local newspaper. When I asked for his name he stumbled his words and said "Ahhh... My name is Love". I was surprised by the name but didn't question how or where he got his name from. I tried asking him more about his life but he insisted right away he did not want to talk about himself, so Instead I asked if I could take his picture. Again his demeanor changed instantly from the smiley happy pie and paper salesman to becoming a little anxious and questioned me why I wanted to photograph him. I told him what I was doing, where the photographs would end up, and for more peace of mind I gave him my business card. By this time more cars had stopped at the intersection and I told him to think about it and go look after his customers. After the light had turned green, Love walked back to where I was standing and happily agreed.

 

 

 

Lilly

I recently went to New York City for three weeks for a project that I am working on involving the New York City dance community. Usually when I travel for an extended period of time for a specific project, I try to allocate a few days where I just walk with my camera photographing only what I see in that moment with no prior intent, concept, or idea. These are some of my favorite experiences I have when traveling because there is no set destination and there is no pressure from any outside influence; it is just me, my camera, and the outside elements. On one particular day I decided to walk North from Brooklyn at 4:30pm and after 15km in 40 degree heat, I came across a woman who I noticed was collecting bottles from trash bags that were placed on the curb/sidewalks in front of what looked like an upscale restaurant in mid town Manhattan. As I walked by, I briefly made eye contact with the woman where we both exchanged a quick smile and as quick as she looked up her attention was back to the task at hand, collecting bottles out of the 12 or more large bags that engulfed her tiny body. As I kept walking, I stopped just over thirty feet past her casually leaning against the adjacent building watching her activity intently. After about five minutes this tiny woman starts carrying one of the large plastic bags that she has filled with aluminum cans and drags it to a shopping cart next to her. She struggles to tie the bag of cans to the already hanging six or so bags of cans and bottles that have swallowed her shopping cart. Noticing her dilemma,  I quickly walk over and offer some help by tying the full bag to anything that would hold it's weight without it's contents spilling onto the street. Once the bag was secure the woman looked at me and gave me the biggest smile and in broken English said "Thank-you". I realized this would be a great opportunity asking her to take her photo. Given my experience of being denied photographing woman in similar circumstances, I was surprisingly shocked when she immediately agreed where I then snapped off ten or so frames. After I finished the last frame, she gently tapped her chest and said "Me... Lilly". We both smile, I tell her my name mimicking her hand to chest motion and end our encounter with a friendly handshake and we go our separate ways. It was only after I had walked 50 feet that I quickly turned around and went back to ask Lilly another question seeing the potential in our chance encounter. As I came around the corner and coming face to face with my new friend, I asked her if I could follow her for an entire day photographing her daily life and activities. Realizing that she spoke very little English and only Mandarin, I was quickly faced with difficult language barriers I had in Bangladesh re-living that sense of helplessness and in a city where English is one of the first spoken languages. After many attempts at trying to find out where she would be in the afternoon the next day, we both realized and knew the language barrier was too great. Not giving up, I asked for her mobile number in very poor hand signals in hopes of calling her the next day to try again. She agreed and gave me her number.

The next day I called Lilly at noon asking her where she was and within minutes it was the same scenario from our first encounter the day before. Neither of us could understand one another and we were both reluctant to hang up the phone but we knew it was inevitable and after a a couple minutes our phone call had ended. Sitting on the sidewalk with my back to a building, I knew I could make this meeting happen. I looked up and saw a food truck. Never denying myself food and always being able to think better with something in my stomach, I decided to eat as it might be a good idea so I can come up with a different approach to meeting up with Lilly. As I glanced at the menu from the hole in the wall food truck, I ordered my chicken paratha (South Asian oily flat bread). Waiting for my order, I noticed an Asian man walk up behind me also wanting to place an order. I immediately turned to the man and said "I know this may sound crazy but do you happen to speak Cantonese or Mandarin"? The gentleman looked at me a bit puzzled, then smiled and said "I actually speak both languages fluently but I am Malaysian". I then told him who I was and that I wanted to photograph this woman but was unable to communicate with her. I suggested to the man I call Lilly from my phone and from there he can immediately take over the conversation and essentially be my translator and get her location. The friendly man agreed. I quickly dialed the number, Lilly answered, I tell her it's Jeremy, and then I pass the phone to the gentleman. After 20 seconds he starts talking with her and within 2 minutes Lilly tells the man her location and the conversation ends. I thank the man offering to pay for his meal, he declines, we shake hands, he wishes me good luck, and I am off running towards the nearest subway, chicken paratha in hand making my way down to West 4st.

Once I make it down town I had no problems finding Lilly. She was just as smiley and friendly the evening I met her. I tried explaining why I wanted to photograph her that day but again the language barrier was to difficult and I was yet again on a mission in search for another stranger who could speak Mandarin for me. After many "no's" from various foot traffic, I finally came across a woman who was more than willing to help translate some questions I had for Lilly. Within 10 minutes or so everyone was on the same page and Lilly was more than happy to let me follow her around photographing her daily routine.

Lilly is 58 years old and comes from a small village in China. She lives in New York City with her husband and has for the past 13 years. Lilly used to work in a restaurant in China Town, however the restaurant has shut down and she tells me it is hard to find work because she does not speak English. She spends her days collecting glass bottles and aluminum cans from various store fronts and apartment buildings where the owners and general public greet Lilly as if she were their closest friends. Back in China Lilly has two children where her daughter is in her 20's and is a house keeper and her son is in his 30's and is a driver for a local company. I could not help notice the amount of recyclables Lilly collects on a daily basis and I was curious to find out how much she makes on a average day. It turns out she collects $20-$30 worth of cans and bottles in a 10 hour day.

Ruth Renner

I met Ruth through a chance encounter while I was photographing a local blacksmith named Marshall who does a large amount of shoeing for the equestrian community in Calgary and surrounding area. I asked Marshall after I had finished photographing him if he knew of any woman specifically in the ranching/agriculture community that are older than seventy-five and still working. Thinking this was a complete long shot and not even expecting an answer, Marshall immediately started describing the exact individual I had in my head. I asked Marshall if I could meet this woman and he said “Sure, we just have to travel to the other side of the highway”. Marshall and Ruth were literally neighbors living within throwing distance of each other. When I met Ruth it was later in the evening around 8:30pm. Marshall was kind enough to introduce me to Ruth at her home leaving only a twenty four hour notice. As soon as Ruth answered the door I was amazed on how mobile she was. Already Knowing she was 86 years old prior to arriving, I pictured in my head an elderly woman with a cane, neatly dressed, and softly spoken. I could not have been more wrong, shocked on how her ability to speak with such confidence and eloquence, and to add insult to injury Ruth was covered in dirt and debris from the days work on her farm. Ruth was born in 1925 in Montana USA and when she was six months old her parents migrated to Calgary where she has lived ever since. Ruth grew up raising horses, pigs, chickens and growing hay. Attending University at Cornell University and University of Alberta (UofA), Ruth studied animal science while earning her masters in agriculture. After university she became a professor at the U of A for twenty-five years before coming back to Calgary to work the same land her parents bought back in 1925. To this day Ruth still runs the farm checking the troughs, the cattle, and attending to the daily maintenance that is always needed. Given her age, Ruth has had to bring on a few helpers as she is going blind. After Ruth passes, she plans to donate the land to the Nature Conservancy so that the land will have beneficial value due to the nutrient soil rather than selling it off to a developer where it could potentially threaten and destroy the area. Before my interview with Ruth came to an end, this was her last statement “There is a limited amount of black soil out here and it is the most productive and it would be a shame to put it under concrete and condo’s. It should be used productively for growing and producing, that is what should happen to good land”.

Paul Larocque

My encounter with Paul was by chance as it all started while I was driving through the East Village in downtown Calgary. Stopped at a red light, I noticed a cyclist cross the intersection in front of me. Thinking nothing of it, it was actually the cyclist’s incredible speed that caught my eye because he was not pedaling. Still perplexed, I suddenly noticed a little two-stroke engine attached to the top tube of this strangers bicycle. Thinking this was the most amazing device I have ever witnessed, I stepped on the gas when the light turned green, making a sharp left turn, and in full pursuit of my motorized bicycle friend. After following this individual for several blocks, he finally came to a stop at a downtown bottle depot. I parked and casually approached the man introducing myself asking this stranger questions about his bike, how he made it, and later finding out his name was Paul. After about a fifteen minute conversation, I was continually intrigued about Paul’s story and asked to meet with him at a later date to take his photograph. He agreed. If you were to see Paul on the street you wouldn’t think twice to keep walking past him. However under that rough exterior is a man that has lived a life of extremes with considerable highs and lows. Born in the city of Montreal in 1960, Paul and his parents moved to Calgary when Paul was two years old to a farm in Drayton Valley. Paul was always up and about working and traveling in a variety of places throughout his life which has led him to working in the oil fields, commercial construction, and farming. Later on when Paul moved to Vancouver at thirty-one years of age, he started dealing drugs earning more than a thousand dollars in one day, soon after he started using the substances he was selling, where heroin and alcohol became his choice of drugs. From there Paul has led a life where he considers himself to be a loner, never staying in one place too long. Right now he currently resides in Calgary where he sleeps in the backyard of a residential family home where he has now been clean from heroin and alcohol for over eleven years. The family who owns and lives in the home has taken it upon themselves to provide Paul a safe place to sleep as well as being a support system. The Family has asked Paul to sleep inside on a few occasions, however Paul insists on sleeping on the ground under the stars in the backyard or on the porch if it starts to rain. Currently not working due to medical issues, Paul spends his days collecting bottles and trying to sell his motorized bikes that he builds in his sponsor’s garage.

I asked Paul if he has any regrets, where he is quick to respond, “ I have no regrets… I regret some of the things I did to certain people, but I cannot regret what I did in life, it happened… and now it’s done”. “I had all the STUFF, cars, trucks, houses… none of that matters; it is not a goal of mine to own stuff. To be honest I really just love my bicycle. What I would love to do is take a chunk of money and go to Northern China or Mongolia”… “I would be happy with a one bedroom shack on a piece of land, seriously what else do you want, what else do people need”.

 

 

Stranger Series- Conrad Ouchi :: {Calgary Portrait Photographer}

One early morning as I was meeting a friend in a downtown local coffee shop in Calgary, I kept noticing a face out of the corner of my right eye and could not help but casually stare. I couldn't tell you exactly what forced me to stare at this gentleman so many times. Perhaps it was his trendy outfit, his soft facial features, maybe it was the beard, and the fact I could not get the strange childish voice out of my head "You need to photograph that guy". When I was done my meeting, I gathered my things, took one last quick glance at the man sitting to my right and headed straight for the door. As I walked outside I kept repeating to myself both in my head and in a dull whisper..." I need to photograph that guy, just go back Jeremy and ask him... don't worry it will be fine... what's the worst that can happen?". I went back into the coffee shop, gathered my wits, and slowly approached the man. The difficult thing now was he had his back to me and his seven friends that surrounded him quickly realized I was some stranger about to say something. As I approached the group telling them who I was, the project I was doing, I then turned to the bearded man I wanted to photograph. As I continued to explain leaving him with the opportunity to answer, he immediately said "NO", his friends were disappointed with his answer and encouraged him to say yes making jokes on why he should say yes. I gave the man my card and said "It's completely up to you and if you change your mind please do not hesitate to call me".

Two weeks later I received a phone call from Conrad Ouchi.

Conrad was born in Vernon BC where he and his wife moved to Calgary in 1975 looking for work as graphic designers. Studying at the kootney school of art, Conrad was a freelance graphic designer for 13 years and then slowly started to decide to become an full time artist. The decision to pursue art happened when Conrad went to Chicago for a conference, from there he was immediately inspired.

Conrad now lives in Calgary pursing his painting and most recently experimenting with photography.