I will say this.  This is the first time where I totally lost control of a portrait session, but when I took a look, later on, at the images I made, I was pretty much glad that I let things flow the way they did.  There are some people who will not be constrained by formalities.  Alex is one of those people.

Let me set the stage for you….

Last week, I was sitting in Wired Beans Cafe talking with some friends and wrapping up a little photo shoot with artist Jasmine Roper (I’ll be sharing those images with you in a few days) when I spotted this woman by the name of Alex walking up Germantown Avenue. (Ididn’t know that Jasmine and others knew Alex, but I’ll save that for another day and another story.)

At that moment, I knew that I wanted to photograph her.  She had this scarf wrapped around her head and neck and she stood out. I excused myself, ran out the door, flagged her down, and waited for traffic to clear before I crossed the street. I didn’t want her to get away.

I introduced myself, gave her my card, gave her the spiel about my street portrait project and asked her permission to photograph her.

Taken May 3, 2012 in Philadelphia, PA.

She took one look at my card and turned the conversation back on me.  She wanted to know who I was, where I lived, what I was doing, all that.

I was taken aback.

I had to recover and get control of things very quickly before things spiraled out of control.

So I asked her “What’s your story?”

She laughed, and started taking off her scarf.


Taken May 3, 2012 in Philadelphia, PA

She told me she was a yoga teacher, a Reiki master…and a whole host of other things that I simply couldn’t remember.  I do remember her saying that she didn’t live in Mt. Airy…that she lived in Chestnut Hill and that she was dabbling in real estate as well.


All the while, she’s smiling.  Nervously smiling.  And smoking a lot of cigarettes.  I think she may have gone through at least two during the short time we were together.

Taken May 3, 2012 in Philadelphia, PA.

So we stood there, laughing and smiling (about what, I can’t remember).  And so I’m always looking for the money shot, so when she took a drag on her cigarette, I told her I wanted a capture of that.

She obliged.  And this, getting this money shot, my friends, made me giggle like a schoolgirl who was just kissed by the most popular boy in school.  I was so thrilled.

Well, after my triumphant session, I saunter back to the cafe, where Jasmine says, “Look at you!  You were all over it!

Me:  “Yeah, I just had to photograph her.”  So I showed her the images from my camera.

Jasmine:  “I know her!  Her name is Alex, right?”

Me:  “Yeah!  You know Alex?”

Jasmine:  “Yeah.  I know Alex.  And I’ll just leave it at that.”

At that moment, knowing glances were exchanged.

Then, silence.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my encounter with Alex.

This was one of those instances where a picture can’t even get at the essence of a person.  Alex seemed to be many people, wrapped up in one very unique and enigmatic package.

She kinda embodies what Philadelphia means to me.  It’s all things unique and all things enigmatic.

Post script:  Alex showed up later, at the cafe, during Coffee After Dark. I was working, so  I didn’t get a chance to say hello or anything.  She didn’t say anything to me, either.   To be honest with you, it felt like the photo shoot, the laughs, the smiles, never happened.  Very strange.


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