Lily is from Phoenix, Arizona. We met at JFK airport as she headed home from a solo trip to New York City. We talked about the differences West US to East US, and she noted the more reserved culture this side, that in some ways it might be a better thing. And talked about her trip.
Her tour around NYC was a pilgrimage of kinds, seeing all the sights her boyfriend – a New Yorker by birth – had told her about, from the showstopping global monuments to the little corners and neighbourhood relics one only knows as a local. She described seeing the sunset in a small park below Brooklyn Bridge. Places they’d talked about seeing together, before he passed away just a little while ago.
It’s hard to describe the impact of her story, and in describing it to others I’ve failed to elevate it properly from what might sound like one of sadness. The way Lily told it, it was one of the most inspiring narratives I can recall. Somehow complete, energising, significant and soaringly perfect.
When we’d walked back to Lily’s gate, having shot five minutes walk away at Gate #69 where the late afternoon light drifted in hot and golden, we wished each other luck and I simply put my camera away.
Having spent much of the summer in airports, I’ve looked at shooting in a number of them, but from the thousands of people waiting to fly, no one has really resonated with any of the backdrops I’ve seen. This encounter reminded me of a couple of things. Firstly, that with the right light, the requirements of a backdrop change instantly. Changing planes, with most of my kit on the runway somewhere, I only had a single reflector. When things looked a little flat using it in my typical way – Lily holding it just below shot – I took hold of it and fired the full strength sun back onto her. That was just a little too harsh and contrasty, but I found if I tilted the lens hood every so slighty into the sun (coming from a window over her shoulder to the right) then the resulting flare/haze helped control the contrast and rein it back in. With this appealing mix of light on Lily, I could adjust the exposure for the backdrop, and everything suddenly leapt into life.
Secondly, I was reminded of the importance of a narrative. How many incredible stories have I missed out on for not taking a risk in the last few months? Too many. Lily’s story really struck me – both the poignant narrative, and the uplifting, composed energy and spirit she brought to it.
Lily – thank you so much for sharing your story. I hope you like your portait, and that it maybe offers another reminder of the incredible journey you outlined to me.
This is portrait #69 of my 100 Strangers Project – check out the group page and get involved.
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