Tanner Oakes – Fells Point Street Photography

Fells point street Photography

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When you have a goal, you have a clear and concise idea about how something is going to play out. You have a set plan about the steps you will take, what actions you will perform, and what the end product will be. Many people have visualized and set their goals in place; crafted them and molded them to one day become reality. However, there are rare cases when the goal itself may mold the person.

I had the intention one night of driving down to Fells Point Baltimore in order to photograph people on the streets. I wanted to get pictures of people in their everyday habitats, doing what they would do any other night. I had a goal in mind that I wanted to accomplish, but it was not long before I realized that my goal would be shifting and changing from underneath me. Armed with a small white Nikon that looked like a cereal box prize, I stepped out of my car with my black jacket and hat on. I intended not to look like a preppy Baltimore school boy if there was ever such a thing. I was nervous about walking up to people and asking them to allow me to take pictures. What if they became angry, displeased, or called the cops over? The worst case scenario was always playing in my head, and not once did I consider the question friends and family always told me to ask myself. “What if they just say no?” I had become a tourist holding a jumbo marshmallow in the middle of Baltimore. Who would want to have me take their picture? Surely these first couple minutes of thought forced me to step back and become afraid of my goal, but not within 5 minutes did the perfect candidate walk up to me.

Derek, a 26 year old man who had been homeless for a couple years now offers to tell me a joke and sell me stamps. Did I want the stamps? No. Did I want to take a portrait that will last me forever? Yes. What started off as a friendly hello ended up in an hour long conversation the dug deeper into both of our lives. He had to pay twelve dollars a night to someone to sleep on their boat, while I had a comfortable bed waiting for me at home. I was buying him a Philly Cheese Steak at Brick Oven Pizzeria and I had a buffet line named after a dog at my disposal. Our differences were marked, but this man was nothing but equal in my eyes. He was a human, just like me, but had just not been as fortunate in life choices and finance. Sitting inside of Brick Oven Pizza, we talked and got to know each other. Where we had come from, how we had gotten to where we are, what we wanted to do, etc. His casual speech drew me to love Derek even more, and it was in that moment that I saw my prime opportunity. This is the moment that I had waited for. Our agreement was to let me take his picture in exchange for the meal that was simmering in the background. An idea that was crazy to him, was not at all crazy to me. I pulled out my camera, told him I was ready, and then took the picture of Derek. Pleased was an understatement. It was not about the thousands of potential pictures that I could have taken, but this one. I had embellished Derek in Black and White in a riveting and show-stopping way. We got the food, left the restaurant, talked some more, and then went our separate ways. Our exchange was not a photographer to a homeless man, but simply person to person. I loved Derek so much, and wished that I could have spent more time with him.

I stepped onto the streets, ready for what was to come ahead of me. I wanted to make sure that everyone was captured equally through my photos. It was not about what they were doing that I previously thought was important, but their bodies themselves. I became transformed in my fear of taking photos of these night-goers, and was ready for more. I spent the next six and a half hours meeting bartenders, train hoppers, businessmen, and more. No one was greater than the other, and I wanted to capture this in my photos. The experience was truly amazing, and in some cases just cost me a pack of cigarettes. What people wanted in money, I wanted in photosites and grayscale. The exchange was beautiful, and I would gladly do it again.

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