This was my foremost chance encounter with strangers in Wynwood, Miami on Christmas morning. I was making images of street art in the neighborhood and this guy sidled up to chat after watching me for a few minutes. When he approached, he began by standing between my tripod and a large mural on which I was focused. He struck a pose and forced a smile.
“Hey man, I don’t work that way. I prefer to make honest, candid images. What’s your name?”
“I’m W I L L I A M, T H E R O S E M A N.” He rolled it out slowly, loudly, and with a hint of a southern drawl that wasn’t Floridian.
“Why do call yourself that? ” I asked.
“I’ll show you.” He took a small green item out of a deep pocket in his shorts. It looked to me like a piece of origami.
“You carry those around?” I asked him.
“No, I make them.” He replied. He reached around into his backpack and produced a pliable long switch of a grass-like material and mindlessly started winding it up onto itself.
“If you don’t mind,” I said, “I’d like to capture you at your hand craft. Let’s talk a bit and I’ll be low key with my camera.”
“Oh, yeah. I’ve been in a Jon Secada video. I pose all the time for tourists who like me to smile for them. No one ever asks me to do my thing. You’re a real pro. That’s cool.”
He looked for a place to sit. Across the street we settled at a stoop, which I called his “studio.” While releasing my camera from the tripod I looked for a vantage to observe him. He reminded me of Mary Poppins reaching deeply into her carpet bag. The Rose Man fished around the large pocket of his backpack and removed supplies: a razor blade; a dozen or so long strips of green palm-leaves or sawgrass; an emptied glass liquor bottle to display his finished flowers. He got to weaving roses, talking all the while.
For the next half-hour, he unraveled a back story (real or imagined, who knows?) as he set about tightly winding up one-inch sized rose buds with stems. He claimed to be clean and sober for 3 years, two days; Christmas day can be an easy bookmark on one’s memory. Back in South Carolina where he comes from, he learned to weave with sweet-grass from a Geechee tribesman. The Rose Man asked where I was from. I told him I was visiting from New Mexico. He’d been out there, to Taos. I asked if he’d heard its rumored hum when there. That kept him talking and making more roses.
Because my wide angle lens was on my camera body, I crouched within a foot or two from him to make my shots. He liked the attention and was a very relaxed subject. After allowing me the freedom to photograph him through the process of making a flower or two, he gave me the rose pictured in his hand. I thanked him and stuck it in my hair. Using my camera’s back view screen, I gave him a few moments to see the shots of him that I made. He was noticeably flattered.
“Do you have any suggestions for where I should head next to find more interesting street murals?” I asked.
“Down that way,” He said. “There are some decent paintings on big walls a few block over there.” He pointed in a direction further away from the galleries; deeper into the neighborhood.
“Am I going to have problems with my personal safety there?” I asked. “I’m not familiar with this neighborhood, and don’t need to walk into any trouble spots.”
“If anyone messes with you,” he said, “Just say, ‘Do you want me to sick the Rose Man on you?!'”
I had no issues. And I did discover more impressive street art. More of that is coming up.