“To Be Human…”

I was seated at a restaurant in the center of Verona one day, enjoying a meal alone in Piazza Bra, when a middle-aged man quietly approached my table. He was dressed in plain clothes; a short-sleeved shirt tucked into his workman’s pants, black boots on his feet, an old ball cap lazily placed atop his head. He began speaking in a language I could not understand, all the while pointing at the tiny, customarily-served ramekin of Italian olives on my table. I presumed he was asking for permission to eat them. I passed them over and watched as he began to place them into his mouth one by one, savoring them. My mood that day was pleasant, and seeing how I had some time to kill and no company to keep, I pushed the chair across from me out from under the table and pointed at it, offering him a place to sit. He looked at it, sat, and resumed eating…slowly, methodically.

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(photo: Fidel Amos)

 

Somehow I felt very natural having him there at the table with me. I felt as if we had been friends for years. I felt as if we had made an appointment earlier in the week to have lunch together and he had just now arrived to join me. I felt as if the logical next stop should be to call my waitress over and order him something to eat…so I did. A few minutes later she returned with the bottle of water and dish I had asked for and placed it on the table. His gaze fell to the plate before him and his eyes narrowed. He looked at me, his face showing signs of confusion. I made a “for you” gesture towards his meal and smiled slightly. He looked down at his plate again and suddenly began to cry. He covered his mouth as if to hold in emotions that had been longing to burst free for hours, days, months. I looked away for a moment, giving him time to experience those emotions…not knowing what to say, not knowing what to do.

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(photo: Fidel Amos)

 

He then began to eat. As he ate he told me of his past, his troubles, his worries, his present situation. He shared his life with me. He poured his soul out to me. A stranger, but not a stranger. A friend, but not a friend. I didn’t understand a word he said…but I understood every word he said. As if understanding that I understood, he stopped sharing. For the next ten minutes we sat in silence. For the next ten minutes we were simply two people enjoying a meal, enjoying each other’s quiet company.

After a while the waitress returned and I asked her for the bill, adding a little extra so ‘my friend’ could enjoy dessert when he finished his meal. I gathered my things and stood to leave. He looked up from his meal and raised an eyebrow, curious. I told him that I had to go. He seemed ready to object, as if asking for me to stay so he could thank me in some way. I told him he didn’t need to…my God was good to me, so when I could I returned the favor to others. He stretched out his hand, so I did as well. We shared a handshake. We exchanged foreign goodbyes, then I left.

I left because I wanted him to enjoy a few moments to himself, because I wanted him to savor the rest of his meal in peace, because I didn’t want him to feel obligated to thank me for the dessert that I knew was coming, because I wanted him to take his time, because I wanted him to be human again…

 

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(photo: Fidel Amos)

 

– F

(I’m not sure why I stole a few photos of him during this experience. Probably because it’s what I do. Or more likely because I don’t ever want to forget that day…or him)

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Filed under Diary Of A Traveling Photog, The Good In Mankind

“All Cops Aren’t Bad…Just The A**holes.”

“The problem with a lot of the statements/comments I’ve read lately regarding police officers, federal agents, private security employees and various other areas of employment involving ‘positions of power’ is that they’re ‘blanket statements’. Too often people are so quick to say ‘All cops are bad’. Unfortunately blanket statements are used in all types of situations these days, especially via social media…where an image/video can spread like wildfire before the truth of the event actually unfolds.”

“I try to avoid making these types of statements because I’ve traveled the world and have had the opportunity to meet different types of people of various races, religions and backgrounds. I’ve learned not to assume that the attitude, negativity and bad behavior I receive from one person will be the same attitude, negativity and bad behavior I’ll receive from other people of that same race, religion or background. In other words, what people look like and what they do for a living doesn’t amount to the type of person they are. The type of person they are is determined by exactly that…the type of person they are. Some of my dearest friends are police officers, security guards, federal agents, and bouncers. They’re not racist, bigots, biased or violent people. They’re confronted every day with situations that test their will, resolve, patience and survival, yet they behave in a manner which coincides with their character. They’re not good people because they’re cops, agents, or security. They’re simply good people who happen to be in those jobs.”

“The men in the video below for example are, for lack of a more politically correct word, a**holes. Again, I don’t know the logistics of the situation, I’m simply making an assumption due to what I’m seeing in this video. Could they be two great cops that are treating the cameraman in this manner because the cameraman is a scumbag they know from ‘around the way’? Sure. Could they be two cool dudes that were just told to act this way by their overbearing superior? Yes. If they are in fact just a**holes however, they’re not a**holes because they’re cops, they’re simply a**holes who happen to BE cops. If they were teachers, farmers, construction workers, or McDonald’s fry-guys, they’d probably STILL be a**holes.”

(Click to watch video via YouTube)

(Click to watch video via YouTube)

“Of course, there will be those of you that disagree with me. Like I said, everyone has had different experiences in their lives and everyone is different than I am, thus everyone won’t think the same way that I do…some people just hate uniformed individuals. There will be those of you that say having a gun, a badge, a siren and the daily duty of dealing with criminals MAKES you an a**hole…but this is an observation I won’t agree with. I was a bouncer for years in NYC. Did I talk a little more trash because I knew the nightclub or my fellow boys in black would back me up? Sure. Did I expect to get to the front of the line at certain spots because of who I was and who I worked for? Of course. But deep down inside I was the person that I was, with the responsible mindset and moral integrity that I had. I never beat someone to within an inch of their lives or worse because I could get away with it, because deep down inside I simply wasn’t the typer of person that would do that…regardless of the power behind my position of authority.”

“I know my words here won’t be world-changing. My thoughts on this matter should be taken simply as they are…my thoughts on this matter. If you’re the type of open-minded person that might learn a thing or two from people other than yourself however, here’s the one seed I’d like to plant: take people for WHO they are, HOW they act and WHAT they do. Exterior appearances can be deceiving. They can lead you to believe something untrue about someone. They can also cause you to miss out on knowing some of the best people on this earth.”

“Try not to see your fellow humans as the clothes they wear, the jobs they have, the car they drive or the entity they pray to…try to see them for who they really are.”

  • F

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Filed under Controversy...Ya Gotta Love It, Globetrotting, Really America?, The Good In Mankind

“Shooting Myself…” (Photographically)

“The first time I became a ‘paid photographer’ was almost a decade ago.”

“Technically, I had taken photos well before that, having been bitten by the bug in college and shortly after becoming ‘that guy with the camera in your face’ during vacations and road trips. But it wasn’t until about 9 years ago that I was actually paid money to photograph something. I started small (as I imagine most shooters do), with events, parties and red carpet affairs…all very easy to find in NYC. Before long, however, and with help from friends in high places, I found myself with access to fashion shows, VIP happenings and the occasional star-studded wedding.”

(photo: Fidel Amos)

(photo: Fidel Amos)

“A year or two of that kind of photography put decent money in my bank account, but I found myself wanting more. Not more in the sense that I wanted to do more volume, I simply wanted to do the kind of shooting that held a little more substance. I didn’t just want to shoot more photos, I wanted the photos that I shot to mean something…I wanted people to FEEL what I was shooting, not just see it. It had become evident to me that I enjoyed taking random photos of people on the street much more than models on runways or celebrities at functions, so I began putting my focus into portraiture. I remember reading that a certain photographer had prepared for taking portraits of others by practicing on stuffed animals. For some reason though that sounded strange to me, as shooting a non-moving object hardly seemed challenging, so I practiced by shooting photos of myself.”

(photo: Fidel Amos)

(photo: Fidel Amos)

“I can’t honestly say that I took away much from that (other than the fact that being on the receiving end of a lens was more intimidating than I thought), but it did teach me one very valuable lesson: you can’t lie to a camera. Sure, you can make yourself up or undress yourself, you can pose differently or hide certain physical characteristics or imperfections by keeping them out of frame. But in the end you look like what you look like, and you are who you are…there’s no changing that.”

(photo: Fidel Amos)

(photo: Fidel Amos)

“Of course, this was a decade ago, not everyone and their grandmother’s had yet gotten their hands on Photoshop and various other applications that can make just about anyone look like just about anyone else, but that’s not really what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the photo the second you take it, while it’s in the camera, raw for the world to see. Paul Strand, an American photographer and filmmaker, once wrote: ‘It is one thing to photograph people. It is another to make others care about them by revealing the core of their humanness.’ In the end, he’s right, we’re all just humans….and that’s what I try to show in my photos. True, I’m no master photographer, I’m still learning every day, with every person that I shoot.”

(photo: Fidel Amos)

(photo: Fidel Amos)

“But after adding a few years of portrait-taking to my resume, after having photographed hundreds and hundreds of people in the streets, homes and jobs of various cities in countries around the world, I can safely say that I’ve learned a lot more about what it is to be human….and what it means to photograph that humanness.”

“That’s why I take photos.”

(photo: Fidel Amos)

(photo: Fidel Amos)

“….and that’s why every now and then, I still shoot myself.”

– F

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Filed under The Story Behind The Shot, Why I Do What I Do

“The Photo-Bombing Bubble…”

I was walking in Central Park one day, when near the Bethesda Fountain I spotted a flash mob beginning a performance in front of a man and a woman. After they were done dancing he got down on a knee and proposed. When she said yes he hugged her, it was touching. I put my camera to my eye to take a picture…and that’s when a giant bubble appeared out of nowhere and floated right into my shot. A street performer on the terrace below me was creating person-sized bubbles from a bucket full of soapy water.

(photo: Fidel Amos)

(photo: Fidel Amos)

Of all the pictures from all the cameras in all the cities in the world, that bubble had to float into mine…at that exact moment in time.

– F

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Filed under Blog Quickies, New York City, The Story Behind The Shot

“Disaster Strikes…But What Can I Do?” (Nepal Earthquake)

Planet Earth as a whole is an unbelievably large place; oceans to seas, mountains to plains, cities to villages, it covers nearly 200 million square miles.

Often times when we hear of a tragedy occurring on a different continent or in a different country than ours, it doesn’t have the same effect on us as it does to those living where it happened. This doesn’t mean we’re not paying attention, it doesn’t mean we care less…it’s just simply difficult to be able to see, feel and hear about the various disasters, big or small, that occur around the world on a day to day basis.

 

Yesterday however, for the first time since I can remember, a natural disaster occurred thousands of miles away from me, yet I felt it in my being…the earthquake in Nepal. I was blessed to be able to see Nepal a couple years ago while on assignment with several surgeons and medical staff from Mission: Restore. It is a beautiful country, and the people we encountered there were friendly, generous and hospitable to us every step of the way.

 

As I scanned the internet for more information on what was occurring in the cities I had visited while there (specifically Kathmandu), I came across a photo of Patan Durbar Square, which now lies half in ruin. I had taken a photo in the exact same spot, from the exact same angle that this photographer had taken theirs. The place where I had been standing a few years ago was gone, demolished, covered by brick, stone, mortar and dirt. I stared at this particular photo for a very, very long time. 

(Patan Durbar Square / In 2011, and today)

(Patan Durbar Square / In 2011, and today)

 

I tried to mentally reconstruct the buildings in their entirety as they had been when I was there. I tried to picture myself being there after such a disaster struck, would I be able to help, or would I be as helpless as so many others I had seen in the photo? I then imagined being there moments before the earthquake hit…would I even be alive now?

 

Perhaps distance, time and space is enough to keep us from physically being side by side with others when tragedy strikes, but with today’s technologies, means of transportations and online methods with which to share infromation, we can get to them quicker and help them much faster than we ever could in the past.

 

If you have the means, if you have the resources, if you have the time, share those things…via Mercy CorpsUSAIDDirect ReliefUNICEFHabitat for Humanity and so many others. It doesn’t matter if you only have a couple dollars to send, a tiny little bit of help from billions of others just like you reaches much, much further than you think.

– F

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Filed under On Assignment, The Good In Mankind