[94/100 Strangers]: Will

Today you meet Will, the impromptu puppeteer and my stranger No. 94/100.

A young man and a papier mache puppet

94/100 Strangers: Will

For many, 911 is a date that reminds us of scary, unsettling times.  On September 11, 2016, I attended an anxiety-erasing event:  the 14th Annual OFFCenter Folk Art Festival in Robinson Park in downtown Albuquerque, New Mexico.  This event made every attempt to replace those negative associations with a celebration of vitality, creativity, art-making, and people-positivity. The annual event usually coincides with a date that falls on the Jewish calendar as the New Year observation. Alas, I would regrettably be elsewhere. Not this time!

This was my first contact with the OFFCenter Community Arts Project.  Its non-profit mission is to promote positive self-identity and resilience through art-making. The organization provides an environment for creative social interaction with free-of-charge Open Studio. It is a safe place for everyone to make art. Art matters!

I met my strangers Nos. 57 & 58 in this same park, a versatile, well-used public space. On this occasion, the folk-art festival was observing an “Urban Jungle” theme. The tree dappled common was flanked by food trucks. The green was packed with all-aged and all-sorts. There was a live music /puppet show tent. The walkways were lined with shade canopies containing community organizers, art, and concession vendors. Face painting and art-making were going on, too. It was amazing. Sometime after noon, an inclusive end-of-summer celebratory parade encircled the park.

Everyone was welcome to join the parade, with one requirement:  some sort of costumery.  The OFFCenter folks provided an ample supply of wildly imaginative papier-mâché masks, headpieces, puppets, and costumes that were made out of recycled materials. Anyone who wanted to adorn themselves and join the parade could simply pick it out of an enormous pile. Participation was free and the mood was jovial and free-spirited. Once individuals secured a costume, mask, and/or puppet, they hovered in a queue for the parade to start. I was with my littlest child who foraged a costume piece from the piles of masks and costume parts that were spread out on the grass, on the eastern corner of the park.

That’s when I noticed a couple test-driving a large paper mache puppet for their parade walk.  The woman stood directly behind her male friend, with her arms wrapped around his middle. The fellow was controlling the puppet. He displayed intense enjoyment with the puppet as he breathed life into its character. The puppet was dressed in a velveteen shirt with a fedora. It had an oversized head with yarn hair and wide-set eyes. After capturing a few candid moments of the couple “meeting” their puppet friend, I approached them for individual portraits. Our next post will reveal his real-life friend in her own portrait.

Will infused his puppet with personality and a lot of positive emotional content. Yes, he agreed to be photographed. No, he could not standstill.  And to a request to be serious, for one second? “No way!”

In his portrait, which I shot with my nifty-50, my fixed 50mm lens, I had to make a quick decision about where to direct the lens focus. I selected him, instead of his larger-than-life puppet. This resulted in a sacrifice of sharpness on the puppet in the foreground. We were standing in an area with large shade bearing trees. I cranked open the lens aperture and used a fabric reflector to brighten his skin and form catchlights on his otherwise very dark eyes. In my post-processing efforts, I took some care and time to heal over a few of Will’s acne spots. Et voila.

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