This is a story about being awkward, being vulnerable, being real and being ok with that.
A few years ago, when I was working as a project manager, and photography was just my creative outlet, I met my friend E.
I was Christmas shopping with my family in our local mall bookstore and when I turned a corner, there she was. By there she was, I mean, I felt like things slowed down and it was kind of dreamlike for a moment. Picture how it would be in a movie... Ya, like that! You see, a decade earlier, I had seen E working there and thought that she'd make a beautiful model. But at that time, I was leaving photography and studying architecture and it made no sense for me to say anything. From time to time, I'd see her in the bookstore and notice her, but never needed or had a reason to introduce myself. She was tall and thin with this gigantic mane of blond hair and had a certain elegance about her. I found her angelically beautiful.
So back to years later...
I turned the corner and having not seen her for a decade, BOOM, there she was almost right in front of me... Of course I didn't do anything. I didn't know what I should/could/needed to do.
My family and I stopped to eat some lunch a little later and I kept kicking myself that I didn't do anything, didn't say anything, just chickened out and wasted that moment. I recounted the events to my wife and explained that I thought I needed to go and talk to her. I wanted to see if she'd help me with an art piece. I figured that the worst that could happen is that I would get embarrassed and she might call security and I end up getting banned from the store (not likely, but you never know). The best that could happen is that she would be open to talking to me and we would create something wonderful. I wrote down a few locations where one could find my work on the web to give to her. Of course I had no business cards at that time so I took a sales receipt from a purchase I had just made and wrote all the information onto that wrinkled little scrap of paper. Classy right? Armed with my piece of paper and my trusty wing man, my 8 year old son (not sure if this made me more normal, or more creepy come to think of it), off I went back to the bookstore.
Now I don't know if you've ever introduced yourself to a random stranger, while they were at work, during a busy holiday season, trying not to look like a stalker, feeling like a stalker, having your kid in tow, and trying to look cool... But let me tell you, it's not the exciting moment you might imagine! Your heart all of a sudden starts beating faster, your words don't come out the way you had rehearsed them on the way there, you notice your hands shake a bit handing over this little rag of a paper with your information on it. Why did I write so messy, so small, she's going to think I'm insane, oh my God what am I doing..? All these things were racing through my mind as I tried to take 15 seconds to explain that I wanted to take her picture. Easy right?
She was gracious and kind and maybe a little flattered.
I was silly and honest, embarrassed but genuine.
I'm not sure if I bounced out of the store, but on the inside I was happy and giddy and proud of myself for passing the first hurdle semi-respectfully, managing to keep it together without talking too much.
Having not heard from her instantly, my mind started to assume that she'd never contact me. My work is not good enough, I was too weird, or talked too much, or the jealous boyfriend would have nothing to do with that, or a million other reasons why we can't talk and learn about one another. Being the Colombo / Googler / notreallyastalker that I am, I began searching online to see if I could find out more about her. All I had to go on was her first name and where she was working. That was it! Turns out, after a bit of searching, she had written a book review for the same bookstore a few years before. Her name isn't overly common so I figured I was on the right track. Off to Facebook I went to try and verify the name to her face. I keyed in the newly learned first and last name and one profile came up. The avatar wasn't something that really identified her, so I needed more information. I was swiping menus on the iPad and I hit the friend request button. OH COME ON!!! What a jackass I am!!! And... Of course she has the 'only friends can message her' button switched... Now I can't even explain my idiocy... I figure she just got emailed a message from Facebook that said something like... "ya, remember that guy... the one with the little piece of paper that wants to photograph you... ya, well... he's found you on Facebook already and you haven't even had a chance to look at his work. Should I contact the authorities?" I can't un-friend the request now, she's still getting that notification.
My fate was in her hands. (It always was, I just like to think I had some amount of control at this stage.)
She accepted my friend request!
She accepted it pretty much ONLY because we had one mutual friend (otherwise I would have just been too forward and fast about this whole thing). It turns out that my wife's cousin's wife and E have known each other for years and both thought very highly of one another. Now here's the thing... I had only added my wife's cousin's wife to my Facebook (despite them being married for years and in my family) literally days earlier. "Hey, I don't think you're on my Facebook," I said at a family thing... Talk about timing.
So hurdle two was now passed and so I took the chance to instead of playing it cool and all Mr. Intentional,to just lay out my heart and explain the whole big long story that you just read. I think she found it kind of funny, kind of scary, but mostly just heartfelt and honest.
She agreed to hear my concept.
I sent her some crappy sketches, some reference photos for giving her an idea of what I wanted to include into the image as a background, the colour palette, etc... and of course LOTS AND LOTS of words...
I described it in such detail that she could understand that not only did I have a vision for the shoot, but she could see it too.
Now... About E. I'd describe her as shy, but strong. She's calm and quiet but confident to speak her mind. This whole taking pictures business? This was completely out of her comfort zone. She had never been a model for anyone. This is not something that she would have sought out on her own. This was a new thing.
As luck would have it, E had promised herself to try new things that year. And this, as I mentioned, was definitely a new thing.
She sent me one of the loveliest emails I've ever received. I read it, I smiled... Then I read it over and over again. It was written in such a way where I could read, I could feel, her going through this whole decision making process... To be open enough about this idea, this new person in her life, and be comfortable with being uncomfortable. It was great!
We bounced other emails back and forth figuring out makeup and hair and little details. We set a shoot date and brought the concept to life... Here's just a few of what we did...
E and I went on to shoot a few other projects here and there over the past few years. What's nice is that I don't think of her so much as one of my models, but more as one of my friends.
Taking that step that day, reminded me that we need to take chances with out hearts. It's good to be honest and open with people. The amount of bad that could happen is nothing compared to the amount of good.
So talk to that person in the grocery store and not feel weird about it. Compliment someone you don't know and mean it. Be real, be authentic. Sometimes being uncomfortable is the best way to be comfortable.