Not Quite Strangers
Many people have asked me how I came up with the idea for this project, so I’ll address that first: I didn’t.
That’s how it feels, anyway. I was walking my dog in my neighborhood on a cool spring morning, and the idea just sort of appeared in my mind, already in full bloom, like the azaleas all around us. I grabbed hold of the idea and gave it a good looking over; I decided it was awesome; I said “thanks” to the benevolent breeze for delivering it; and I promptly walked home and started messaging people I didn’t know.
To be clear, these people were not quite strangers— we followed each other on Instagram. We had double-tapped each others’ posts here and there for quite some time, getting tiny glimpses into each others’ lives and personalities and creative brains. But we had never met face to face, and that’s what this idea was all about. All of these people lived in my town. I had a sense we would be friends if we actually met, but unlike the celebrities I feel this way about (Josh Radnor, Kristen Bell, Wes Anderson), I figured I could probably facilitate these meetings without it ending in one of those pesky, awkward restraining orders.
I gathered a little courage and reached out to six strangers: Would you like to meet? And can I take your picture?
Oh, right, I forgot to mention— this idea involved portraiture. Being a photographer and a people person, I thought it would be cool to meet each new friend for a cocktail or a coffee or a stroll, and then take a portrait of him or her inspired by our conversation. Awesome, right? And guess what? Nearly all of them said yes, and said so with great enthusiasm! So without further ado, please allow me to introduce you to some very cool people I know...
I had been admiring Rusty’s gorgeous photography for quite some time. My work is mostly editorial, shot for magazines and websites, and I often find myself envious of fine art photographers, who make images that end up hanging in galleries or in the homes of extremely hip people. Rusty is a fine artist. His work, often shot in or near water, is moody—or maybe moodful is a better word— and is captured with a careful but quick eye, resulting in something like a documentary painting, if that could exist. I highly recommend you check it out.
We met on a characteristically busy Saturday morning at Black Tap and talked about music, fly fishing, and the stories behind how and when we fell in love with photography. We talked about how weird Instagram can be for photographers, how the images we are particularly proud of and excited to post seem to draw fewer likes than others. We talked about our favorite spots to hang out in North Carolina.
We kept getting interrupted by folks stopping by to say hi—apparently I’m the only one in Charleston who didn’t know Rusty already. The inspiration for his portrait came to me easily when he talked about being an introvert in an extrovert’s job (he works at Holy City Barber); how after a long day of being social, he loves to get home, grab a beer, sit on his front porch by himself, put on some Colter Wall and pretend he’s a cowboy.
Thanks, Rusty, for your beautiful work, for introducing me to Future Islands, and for letting me be a fly on the wall during one of your cowboy evenings. I am glad to know you.
For starters, Sam is simply a lovely human being. Our coffee date began with a hug, and we fell into conversation like we were old friends. She moved to Folly Beach a year ago from her home state of New York with her fiancé, and we compared notes on transitioning between living in the North versus the South (I hail from Michigan originally). We talked about how we both adore traveling and feel anxious if we don’t have a “next trip” planned; we talked about the creative community in Charleston—Sam is a wonderful painter—and how open and supportive it is; we talked about the creative process in general and how it can so often be shrouded in fear. Back in New York, Sam taught art to kids, and reveled in how boldly and unselfconsciously they approached art, as well as life itself. It’s what inspired her to leave teaching and concentrate solely on painting. “We tell kids not to be scared all the time, but we live in fear as adults,” she said. Going after a full-time career as a painter was her way of walking the talk: “I did it to prove to myself that I could.”
Sam is a free spirit and fully grounded; she is reflective and quick to laugh. You walk away from her feeling you’ve met the whole person and a whole person.
Thanks, Sam, for being so open with me, and for laughing with me for a full ten minutes after that rogue wave rushed us. I am glad to know you.
Jared and I are both craft beer lovers, so naturally we met at Edmund’s Oast for a couple of pints. I actually caught sight of him before we got there: I was in my car pulling up to the stop sign at Romney Street when I saw a guy fly by so fast on his bicycle that his hat flew off his head and into the middle of the road. It was probably just an annoying inconvenience for him—he had to turn around and go get it, hoping a car didn’t run it over in the meantime—but for me, as a witness, it was a weirdly charming and cinematic moment, and I wish I had a slow-mo video of it.
Jared is a photographer and a civil engineer, and he masterfully intertwines the two. His photographs are a study of the seams where natural and constructed environments conjoin. He’s always been fascinated by the push and pull between us and nature, how we build upon one another. He said that even as a kid, he was fascinated by a sense of place: maps, locations, road names. When they were out and about, he’d ask his parents to tell him which area they were in or which street they were on. I remember, as a kid, thinking about when, where and how my next Klondike bar was going to happen, so Jared is very cool and smart in my eyes. I love his work.
Thank you, Jared, for opening my eyes to things I wouldn’t normally see, and thank you for coming up with the title Not Quite Strangers. I am glad to know you.
I mean… who gets to have a name like Corbett Tripler? I knew she was cool going in.
Corbett and I discovered we live only a few blocks from one another, so we walked up to our neighborhood cafe and took advantage of the spring weather by sitting outside with our coffees. She brought her almost two-year-old son, Penn, with her, who’s a complete dollface and had every passerby fawning all over him. Penn is the subject of Corbett’s Instagram feed @thefarawaybae. Please look at it— it’s a beautiful, funny, and creative project.
Corbett and I talked about our lives up till now; what we’ve done, where we’ve been, how we got to our current “lifespaces.” I learned that her recent past consists of meeting and marrying her husband not long after breaking up with a longtime boyfriend, and of leaving law school three years in because she realized it wasn’t what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. I was floored by her courage in both instances. So often, I think, we end up in unhappy life situations because we think it’s too late to change our minds; that doing so would cause too much trouble for the people around us, or make them think less of us; that change would simply be too painful. We think we’ve gone too far down one road, and we have no choice but to stay on the narrow path we chose way back when. Corbett reminded me that it’s never too late to choose something different, something that makes us happier. We always have a choice. We’re not on a narrow path. We’re standing in a wide open space...
Thanks, Corbett, for your courage, your encouragement, and your creativity. I am glad to know you.
Ben got stuck in traffic and was 20 minutes late to our cocktail date at The Belmont. He messaged me multiple times to let me know he was running behind, and when he arrived, he apologized so profusely you might’ve thought he’d accidentally killed one of my family members. His woeful regret was unnecessary, as I was already happily sipping the fancy bourbon-based concoction I’d ordered, but impressive.
We chatted for a long time and about a wide variety of subjects, from the Green Bay Packers to deep and shocking family secrets. When I asked if I could photograph his cocktail with my iPhone (OK, fine, I didn’t ask, I just went in), our conversation turned to living in an age in which every experience is documented in some way or another; or, in some cases, is created specifically in order to be documented. Whatever happened, we mused, to simply enjoying an experience? Why does it have to be captured? (I still went ahead and posted the photo on Instagram, somewhat sheepishly).
Ben is attempting, in general, to get more comfortable with impermanence. With not needing to hold on to things. He’s a musician, and he told me his latest creative endeavor is playing with a modular synthesizer. Other than looking and sounding super weird and cool (check it out here), apparently the musician’s actions can’t be recorded; there’s no way to capture and repeat songs. No “sheet music,” so to speak. You just have to enjoy the experience and then let it go.
This was inspiring. I decided I’d make his portrait a creative challenge of my own; that I’d try something new and weird photographically even though I had no idea what the outcome would be, nodding to the idea of impermanence.
Thank you, Ben, for being so sorry for being late that I actually liked you more for being so. And thank you for practicing hard things. And thank you for understanding that the Packers are the best. I am glad to know you.