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THE WHOLE THING BEGAN AS AN ACCIDENT. I tend to lose myself to the photographer’s roving gaze as I walk. In my trance, I must have looked aimless or confused as I made my way down Main Street in Albany because two men approached me within seconds of each other. The first, a seeming schizophrenic who I’d seen lurking outside a storefront for the past hour, stopped me to ask for change. As I recall it, he asked if I could copy some personal documents kept in a box under his bed. The flood of other words he spoke escapes me now; I was dumbstruck by his flurry of questions. The second man, upon seeing this interaction, decided to intervene. He shook my hand, announced himself as Earl Woods, and appeased the schizophrenic. He asked where I was heading. I told him nowhere in particular. In that case, he said he would act as my tour guide. Earl led me through the citywalker’s maze of Albany, all the while sipping a mixture of vodka and iced tea from a Burger King to-go cup (and it wasn’t yet noon). As we stood overlooking the city from Liberty Plaza, he came close, kissed me on the cheek, and told me I reminded him of someone he once knew.
Though taken aback as I was by his advance, I didn’t let on—I simply listened to the stories he told, to the words he spoke. His inebriated honesty, openness, vulnerability, revealed the exceptional authority (my own) with which the photographer may arrange and render his subject. In the inadvertent experience of the encounter, I found I had to first open myself. Bearing witness to the words and faces of strangers became a necessary act, a testament to my own desire for human connection and the ensuing fallacy of the portrait. In the documented encounter, I initially sought a form of truth, of connection. Yet it is because of the near impossibility of presenting a subject as he or she is that we press on. Robert Adams writes:
“At our best and most fortunate we make pictures because of what stands in front of the camera, to honor what is greater and more interesting than we are. We never accomplish this perfectly, though in return we are given something perfect—a sense of inclusion. Our subject thus redefines us, and is part of the biography by which we want to be known.”
These street or roadside encounters, in some strange iteration of chance, or perhaps fate, began to recur. I continued to walk, now with the contradictory aim of provoking accidental meetings—happenings of chance willed into existence—a somehow perfect paradox. Somewhere, in the act of getting lost, I find my subject. The resulting photographs, I can only hope, distill something of the communion of photographer and subject. The portrait remains a distortion, a rendered fiction, and yet somehow a rather beautiful one.
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Gavrich, Richard Max, "ENCOUNTER • GROUP" (2014). Senior Projects Spring 2014. 399.
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