With this stranger portrait, I made a departure from my typical Albuquerque surroundings and began a brief road trip to Arizona. In this blog’s 2015 archives, during the months of June and July, you can find posts from this adventure. Once you endeavor to photograph strangers, you find them everywhere you go.After living in the ‘Land of Enchantment’ (that’s New Mexico) for five years, it was time to make a road trip to Tucson, Arizona before being engulfed by high summer heat. To see saguaro cacti first-hand, the destination was set for Saguaro National Park. One cool aspect of living in the Southwestern United States is that many amazing places are within a day’s drive.
In late spring and early summer, it’s pretty common to meet foreigners spending their holidays driving around in rented RVs. They are keen on appreciating the natural beauty and culture of the western United States. The stranger in this post is one of those tourists. He happened to be a fellow photographer, and our meeting was quite memorable.
Like myself, he is a nature enthusiast who was enjoying a photowalk at the Valley View Overlook Trail in Saguaro West-Tucson Mountain District; Saguaro National Park. My posse decided to skip this short hike for the comforts of our air-conditioned car. It was the three ‘o clock hour. A sweltering 108°F, even in dry heat, feels hot.
The encounter began with my first meeting a late middle-aged mother on the trail. I caught up to her at my own walking pace and discovered she was a German traveling with husband and son. We each spoke enough of the other’s language to become acquainted.
We walked together on the sandy path and caught up with her men who were approaching an exciting subject: a saguaro cactus with a low reaching arm that had sprouted a flower that was perfect for picture making. Most saguaro flower buds don’t appear at human eye-level. These cacti don’t produce flowers until a maturity of between 35-75 years old. Moreover, flowers typically sprout at the top of the plant heads, which can range in height from 20 feet and higher up.
I noticed that the son, like me, was shooting with Canon equipment. He had a configuration of extension tubes on his main lens. I wanted to compare exposure notes with him. In my rough German, I began to speak and ask about his settings. He appeared to ignore me.
Mother put her hand on my shoulder and said in English, “He can’t hear you. He can not hear.”
I looked her in the eyes and asked, “He is deaf?” She nodded one time in the affirmative.
He looked up at me when he noticed my camera edging into the same focal range of the flower subject. It was evident that he was an astute lip reader. I asked his name in German, and he answered me in perfect English. Deaf and bilingual! Meet Sebastien, 42/100.
We spoke to each other in sentences that intermingled both languages like a mash up played by a live DJ and his cross-fader. Considering his deafness on top of our communication fluidity, the experience was surreal for me. We talked about the equipment each of us had on hand. We decided to return to our respective vehicles and come back to the same spot with additional gear. I retrieved my 10-22mm UW lens and an external flash; he came back with a 100mm macro lens.
Together, we spent five minutes admiring and photographing the flower. Then turned to each other and asked to take each other’s picture. Sebastien wanted his photo taken with the wide angle perspective. He popped his memory card into my camera and I made this image for him. Once I replaced his card with my own, I asked him to hold to let me take the same shot. He also took once of me with the same background using his camera. One snap of each other was what we got. I had the idea of placing ourselves with the sun at our backs to add depth to the background. It was a better choice than having the frame look Flat Stanley dimensionless.
For neatness’ sake, presented here is a cropped version of Sebastien’s portrait. My raw version was taken with a horizontal orientation to include a wide view that included scene setting shrubs to his left and right.
After all this time standing still in the hot sun, we became aware of the need to keep walking to “make a breeze,” where there is none. We shook hands, said goodbye, and parted ways.