Photographing Wendy, and other amazing strangers
ABC Open regular Jane St Catherine writes about her experience meeting Wendy Harmer, and the many other amazing strangers she’s photographed and interviewed for Portrait of a Stranger.
I was one of those little girls (a very long time ago) who naturally approached strangers and started conversations and collected addresses and had penfriends and wrote letters. So I was really excited and, I must admit, more than a little daunted, when I found out about ABC Open’s Portrait of a Stranger project. I attended a workshop in Cooma, with ‘strangers’ who mostly turned out to be people I knew from my school days, and we ventured out into the street with our cameras.
I walked up and down the street and round the block a few times, looking for someone who looked as though they might have time to talk, and at the same time looked friendly and approachable. I started towards a few, then changed my mind, or should I say, chickened out!
In the end, I got a bit carried away and approached about six people in an hour. I pretty much forgot to take interesting photos and get enough details to make an interesting story, but at least I’d broken the ice and given myself some areas to improve.
One day I heard about a young woman who is cycling around the world and had just passed through Thredbo. I found out that someone in town had taken her phone number. I’m a would-be round-the-world cyclist myself, and this project gave me a fantastic excuse to call Mirjam and arrange to meet up with her.
Mirjam was camping up on the Main Range and I walked up early the next morning to take photos of her jumping joyfully up at Rawsons Pass, having made it to the top of Australia. The same day, I heard about Jodie, who had achieved an incredible recovery from a snowboarding accident. I arranged to go abseiling with her, but by the time Mirjam had boiled the billy several times (with the stove in her bike panniers), Jodie had had enough of abseiling in the freezing cold. Instead of the abseiling shot I was hoping for, I photographed her on the chairlift as I helped her carry her gear down.
It was fun meeting Mirjam and Jodie, but I know that everyone has a fascinating story to tell. The challenge is asking the right questions to get an idea about someone in a short amount of time.
Last Wednesday was the annual Dalgety Women’s Day. I found out Wendy Harmer was a guest speaker and I thought maybe…just maybe, I would have the courage and the opportunity to ask her for a Portrait of a Stranger photo.
It was a day of laughs and camaraderie and celebration for the women of the high country with the hilarious Jackie Furey as main speaker. Wendy Harmer didn’t appear until after lunch, and I wasn’t sure if I’d get the opportunity to talk to her. But sure enough, she was signing copies of her new book Friends Like These, so I kind of lurked there for a while, plucking up the courage to approach her. I got my camera out, reviewed a couple of questions and fiddled with my notebook – what do I ask someone whose every detail is already public knowledge?
Wendy kindly agreed to the photo. It was blowing a gale outside, straight from the snow, but she liked the idea of the wind in her hair. I took three photos and when I sent the link through to Wendy, offering to forward her the other photos, she replied that she thought she looked like a dropped pie and “PS Don’t send me any more photos”, with a little smiley symbol. She also very graciously added that she wished me luck with my plan to start my own blog.
I’ve loved being involved with the ABC Open’s Portrait of a Stranger project. It’s a bit challenging, even for me, who naturally chats to just about anyone. But, hey, I love a challenge, I love meeting people, I love improving my photography and I really love seeing my photos (and new friends) on the website alongside so many other wonderful photos. It’s heart-warming and just plain good fun.