We are all guilty of people watching and we all have been caught staring at some point or another. But I have learned to watch from afar with a camera and a long lens and really study my subjects. I can get up close and personal and no one is the wiser. I can watch, imagine and pretend I am a part of my subject’s life and they never know that for a short moment in time, their lives are impacting someone else. So completely unbeknownst to them, I have made them my muse.
While sitting in a Paris café, I saw a man sitting slightly ahead and below me. I could see over his shoulder and see his face perfectly when he looked toward the street. Had I been sitting in some typical American diner, my impression of him would have been much different. But I was in Paris on the Rue de Rivoli. I knew this guy had to be more refined than what the sideburns, wrinkles and basic black clothes would have said to me in America.
In America and my experience, he was a truck driver, a construction worker or a factory worker. However in Paris, France, on this shopper’s dream of a street, he had to be something else. The way he drank so specifically and with such purpose from a cup and saucer. The fact that he used cream but not sugar said to me that he was a man’s man in some strange “Misti” way of thinking.
I watched him for 20 minutes or so, just wondering how he lived his life. I had my camera at the ready as always. His face was interesting and I wanted an interesting moment. A moment to remember when I looked at my pictures back home in my little apartment in San Francisco; where, I would again try to imagine his life and remember my time in that café, in Paris, last fall, on a rainy afternoon, just watching time go by. Then he pulled out a cigarette.
The sky was dark and dreary and rain was ready to fall. Nevertheless, this man was sitting outside, doing what most Parisians love to do and we in foggy San Francisco just can’t. They enjoy sitting outside, drinking coffee and most likely smoking while watching the world go by as they pause for just one moment in their busy lives to reflect. Americans really need to learn this fabulous habit. We always seem to feel this need to move, to do, to be and to control.
It took him three tries to light his cigarette in the moist atmosphere that surrounded him. This gave me the opportunity to time taking his image at the perfect moment. I only wanted him, the light and the cup on the table in my frame and I only got two shots before his hands went down.
Looking at him in my photograph now I see how much more refined and less weathered his hands are compared to his face. I again wonder what he did for a living. I again wonder what or of whom he was thinking while sitting at that café. I am still wondering if he ever knew even subconsciously that for 20 minutes he was a part of my life and just never acknowledged it to me for his own reasons. Perhaps playing his own game with me.
I have numerous photographs of people I have seen for a split second in my travels around the world and I will never see again. I still look at these photographs and wonder about the people in them. I wonder if they completed what it was they were doing when I saw them. I wonder if their lives got better or worse after that moment they were in my life. I wonder if they ever do what I do which is to wonder about the lives of strangers and let them run wild in their imaginations.