San Francisco (June 2008)
copyright: Aaron Douglas
I met Richard in San Francisco a few years ago. This particular day I chose to stake out the Powell Street BART station to people watch with my camera. This is the busiest public transit station in the city, so I was bound to encounter some interesting people.
I must have spent about 10 minutes watching Richard wander among the crowd of eclectic city dwellers and mesmerized tourists. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but there was something powerfully captivating about him. Perhaps it was his unique vagabond couture, or the distinguishing hint of gray hairs that peered out from under his bandana. He moved with such an unassuming presence and I was inspired to get closer.
When I approached Richard to ask for permission to photograph him, he studied me for a moment, and with neither a smile nor a look of disapproval he said “sure.” He told me his name and that he was from L.A. He told me how he preferred the milder climate of San Francisco over his home town. And those were the only pieces of his life he was willing to share. It was unclear whether he planned on staying in the city, or he was just passing through. And I got the sense that Richard was uncertain about his journey too. So, I spent a few moments snapping pictures as he remained silent, staring past me into the droves of swirling people. My other questions were met with nothing more than a slight nod of his head. I think he was as unsure of me as I was of him.
For me, these images depict the vulnerability I experienced with Richard that day. When I look at them I’m reminded of the responsibility that comes with holding a camera in my hands. It’s the responsibility of treating my subjects with the sensitivity of compassion.