The DIY census
Have you ever sat in a room full of strangers and just let your mind consider what lives people might be leading? Or how amazing it is that every one of us has a unique story, yet we all still exist, walk and breathe together? In the beginning of the year, Sacramento photographer Brad Shepherd set out on an experiment to interview a different person every day—a “daily introduction to a citizen”—in hopes of unearthing new stories. Check out his blog at http://citizens2010.wordpress.com.
Tell me a bit about your project.
I would say this project has become a sort of sociological census. I go around and start out by asking the same questions—favorite accomplishments, regrets, what are your passions—and then a sound off, where they can say whatever they want. And then, once they’ve become comfortable with me and I’ve learned more about them through those questions, I ask them more questions.
As of late, I’ve been asking people about their toughest times and what surprises people who first meet them. I really just want to see what people are up to and what they are thinking is important in life. And a lot of times, it’s all about what they don’t say.
Are people usually pretty comfortable opening up to you?
Sometimes. Once you get past those first couple of minutes, things usually go pretty smoothly. I can’t blame them. It’s a bit weird when some guy just comes up to you with his camera and starts asking you all sorts of personal stuff. I’d say about 75 percent are interested, the others just flat out say no. That’s another thing: Face-to-face interactions with a stranger is such a lost art.
What stories have you found most interesting so far?
Well, recently I talked to a guy outside of Safeway who has spent half of his life in prison and in gangs, and he still likes to do drugs and drink, but he’s trying to stay out of trouble. It was just interesting meeting people right on the fringe. Some people are just hanging on, some people aren’t.
Of the first profiles I’ve done was of a young girl who was hanging out in Old Sac. She had run away from home, and it just kind of reminded me of myself at her age, but she was very optimistic and happy about being free. I get inspired by people who are just doing their thing and getting along in life.
It’s always interesting how people who I had to coax into doing the interview five minutes earlier entirely open up and suddenly want to talk and let it all out. I even found some guy at Peet’s Coffee, who supposedly worked for Halliburton through his whole career and was really into guns and can train people to essentially be hit men.
The hit man, he was wiling to talk?
I just started asking him a few questions and out it came. It was a little scary, but at the same time, everyone is walking, existing and breathing together. There has to be some kind of connection somehow. I just think the more people get face to face, or talk, even if it is for 10 or 15 minutes. … Who knows, maybe you will change their day a little bit. The thing is, everyone wants a little acknowledgment. It makes us realize that human contact doesn’t hurt, and maybe it will inspire them to go out and talk to somebody.
So this will only continue until 2010 is over?
I’m not going to limit myself. Heck, I may do it the rest of my life.
When visiting my site, I would like people to look at the picture first. You know how we all have our stereotypes and think we know how a person is going to be? Look at the picture while those things are going through your head, and you’re already projecting things on this person that you know nothing about. After soaking in the image, read the text. You will be surprised by some things. I hope to challenge people’s stereotypes.
You’re so awesome. Please don’t steal my job, Brad.
No, no, no! But … you guys hiring?