I passed this young man on Yonge Street in downtown Toronto and just had to catch up with him and invite him to join my project. His dramatic look really caught my attention and his response to my introduction was very friendly and open. Meet Billy, who told me he was on his way to work but had a bit of time. I thought his dark clothing with splashes of red would fit nicely with a dark background and the nearest one I could think of was a block away. I rarely take people out of their way more than a few steps but Billy seemed comfortable with it and said “No problem. I’ve got time.”
We talked on the way to the building overhang I had in mind and have used before to contribute a touch of drama to portraits. I found out that Billy is from the Kitchener area (an hour west of Toronto) and is a Social Work student here in Toronto. What a nice coincidence. We were able to “talk shop” since that was my former profession and I explained that I spent more than 30 years helping train university students in the clinical portion of their Social Work program. Billy has a part-time job in a shop selling alternative-style clothing (no wonder I didn’t recognize the name of the store) and was on his way to work. I pointed out that his look seemed well-suited to an alternative clothing store and he agreed. He said he used to shop there and had not even applied for a job but was asked “When can you start?” Meant to be.
Billy explained he was working in a factory for five years after high school but the company moved, at which point he decided to further his education. His intended field of specialization? Mental health and substance abuse. “I’ve had a lot of friends who suffered from these two problems and I would like to help others deal with these problems.”
While I was taking the photos, a passer-by stopped to ask what we were doing and I explained it was project photos. He said he does photography and was interested. He didn’t observe for more than 10 seconds before he started in. “You’ve got him positioned all wrong.” He gave his considered opinion. Then it was “You’re framing it all wrong. You should do it this way.” I was patient but kept doing my thing and humored him a bit. Then it was “You’ve got the light wrong.” I’d just about had it but completed my photos by concentrating on the task at hand. These are the perils of street photography.
Before we parted, Billy told me a bit more about himself. He’s an animal rights activist (and has a tattoo to prove it) and a vegan. When I asked if he had a personal philosophy to share he seemed stumped but as we talked a bit more he casually mentioned “I’ve always heard that when you visit a place you should leave it better than when you arrived. We don’t know what will happen to us after we’re gone, but I want to leave this planet a little bit better place than when I arrived.” Bingo. I had a really meaningful quote that told me something important about Billy.
Thank you Billy for taking the time to meet and for participating in 100 Strangers. You are #667 in Round 7 of my project. I think you will make an excellent Social Worker.
Find out more about the project and see pictures taken by the other photographers in our group at the 100 Strangers Flickr Group page.