How long have you been doing this?
Almost 4 years – I started on January 6, 2016. I’ve posted almost 1500 portraits since then. At first, I envisioned doing it for only a few months, but a friend suggested making it a 6-months or year-long project. When I got to 6 months, I felt like there was more to do. When I got to a year, I couldn’t stop. My commitment to myself and the people I haven’t yet met was too strong to stop. Here I am now, still doing it once a day, and I have no plan to stop.
This project allows me to create content every day and allows me to feel that I’ve accomplished something special every day, which has built confidence in other areas of my life. I think the project has benefits to my overall mental health too. My mother was diagnosed with early on-set dementia/Alzheimer’s several years ago. She has digressed a lot over the past few years and one thing I’ve heard from doctors is that having a good social network of friends throughout one’s life will help stave off the effects of Alzheimer’s. There are physical and mental health benefits of walking around, genuinely connecting with someone new, and photographing them. Every day.
Heidi: How much time do you have with each subject?
Brian: The process goes pretty quickly and a lot of it is based on intuition. I’m always on the lookout for interesting people on the street. When I spot a potential subject, I introduce myself, talk to them about the project, and invite them to participate. Then I let our connection unfold organically. I have to convince them that I’m not too weird, allow them to share with me what’s happening in their life at that moment, and get a proper portrait of quality within a few minutes. Usually I allow between 2-5 minutes to do all of this and have them sign the model release on my phone.
It still surprises me how we can as humans can get so vulnerable and truly honest within minutes. Sometimes, I am so taken up by the connection, I don’t think about it as a process. Those interactions usually result in the best portraits. But as much as I love the portraits, I love the connections I’m making more than anything else. I thrive on being able to capture that moment in someone’s life and I am floored that people trust me as much as they do. I prefer not to hammer the shutter. I don’t ever worry about whether I can get the shot. Once the connection is there I know the photo will come.
How has your process and imagery refined now that you are almost 4 years in?
The first day I used my iPhone. It wasn’t planned it just sort of happened. I was leaving the grocery store and there was this guy cutting flowers in the flower department holding a knife. I approached him and asked if I could photograph him in that same position. He agreed and the project was born. I switched to photographing with my Nikon the next day on the street.
For a bit I used an AE-S Nikkor 24-70mm 2.8, but mainly I’ve used a manual Nikkor 50mm 1.4. The entire project has been photographed at 50mm. I wanted to honor how I learned to shoot with film years ago so I’ve added challenges, like getting the shot in 24 frames or less. I often come away with several selects from those 24. The constraints I have added have helped me a lot.
I’ve also developed better skills at reading people, which has translated into having a high success rate. I’ve only had 67 rejections. Recently I started using video to ask people one relatively deep question after we finish the portrait. I like expanding the experience to literally give voice to the people in the photos. All the verbal cues, changes in facial expression and intonation that video allows captures a thicker slice of their story than just the photo and the blurb I write.
Any plans for a book with images and stories?
Yes. I am talking with a couple publishing houses about creating a book or book series of this project. I’d like to take the project on the road to places that I haven’t spent much time in, like the Deep South and Cuba. I’m excited for the possibilities of meeting new people everywhere I visit.
What is the drive to continue?
Total world domination. Well, not really. To connect and tell stories through photos and words. I am fascinated about people and human behavior and the stories that connect and unite us. I want to capture that as much as I possibly can. Here we are – floating around on this ball in space – all unique but sharing bonds of commonality. I want to expose what makes us similar and connected. There’s plenty of noise out there about what divides us. I’m all about connecting people.