The Man Who Hates Everybody & Everything
A few weeks ago I was in Birmingham on assignment for AP Images. I had driven into town a day early which proved to be a great thing since my portrait subject had an out of state emergency and would be out of town on the day of our shoot. Thankfully he was good enough to meet me early and allow me to do the shoot for AP so I could get my assignment done. With the shoot done that left the day of the shoot open and free for me to do what I want.
When I am in a new city and I have the time I enjoy photographing the downtown area. The downtown area of a city to me always best reflects the life of a city. Downtown Birmingham is a mixture of old and new buildings is a juxtaposition to each other with the wide range of architecture and ages of buildings. I parked in a parking garage and took my camera with a few extra lenses and a flash and started walking. I don’t consider myself a street photographer but wanted to capture a few elements of people on the street. I also wanted to capture some of the beautiful churches in the area along with some of the shops.
While walking down the streets I came across a shoe repair store. I noticed the owner and thought he had a unique look that would go great in the Strangers project I’ve been working on. I went inside and introduced myself asking if I could take his portrait. Typically when I ask this I get a simple yes or no, with a question of why. His response however was a spewing of hate and anger at a city and world that had changed around him.
He told me that his family had come from Greece when his grandfather was a young man to work in the steel industry. He later left and started this shoe repair business which passed from father to son until now. He showed pictures from the sixties and eighties of the streets full of people where today there was very few walking about. He brought out other pictures of the shop during the later part of the eighties where every shoe shine chair was full and people were waiting for an empty chair to come available. With each picture he complained about how no one longer needed shoe shines or shoe repair. How the minorities and homeless had taken over the streets. How people use computers for jobs rather than do a real day’s work. I wouldn’t say he was a bigot as he hated everyone and everything seemingly equally. Within a few moments I felt like I had been verbally assaulted by a barrage of anger and hatred. I became uncomfortable and wanted to leave but I wanted to capture this man’s picture. I wanted because it was an illusion. To look at him you would think he was a interesting character, never realizing beneath the surface is a bitter man that the world changed around him and he was unable or unwilling to change with it.
It was a stark reminder that change always occurs and you either work with the change or get left behind. After I left my desire to take pictures with people was diminished. I walked around for about another hour taking pictures of more of the buildings and a few of people on the street. Eventually I stumbled on a unique little book shop that I spent several minutes photographing the fascinating interior.
Hopefully I will be back in Birmingham again soon. I would love to do some photoshoots in the area and had lots of ideas. I just will remember to avoid the little shoe repair store.