Stranger 88, Day 88 – Meet Kelley, the “Photographic Nomad”

Stranger 88, Day 88 - Meet Kelley

I ventured outside my normal today, but only because I actually had a meeting with a prospect. The meeting was at a coworking space in Buckhead near my office. I was excited to walk around the space, and find today’s Stranger.

As I wrapped up my meeting and was walking towards the exit, I spun my head around (because my head’s on a swivel like Beetle Juice). I noticed a woman working diligently on her computer in a conference room. The door was open, so “what the hey!” as they say. (Note: I say it, too.)

The woman looked up and, for a moment, gave me that “uh oh, what do you want” look, but that quickly dissipated and turned to a big smile. That smile would remain a constant throughout our meet with the occasional curled lip as she thought about my questions to get to know her.

Meet Kelley, 32

Who are you?

“I am a photographer!…? From Atlanta…? And… I don’t know. That’s it!” She says she’s a photographer and she’s from Atlanta with an intonation that starts out excited before curling back up into sounding like a question.

“… and I’m just here!”

Where’s “here”?

“Here is… well, I guess it’s in Atlanta, but don’t necessarily want to be here for the rest of my life. I’ve been here 10 years. So, what I really want to do is one day be able to just travel the world, and just always be traveling… kind of like a gypsy. We’ll say a nomad.” She laughs.

Why do you want to be a nomad?

“Well, I’ve never really liked boundaries or boxes like that.” Uh oh. I just realized I closed the door to the conference room we were in. I just closed the box…

“… just being in one place. I used to move a lot. I didn’t realize until later that it’s actually what I prefer — changing my scenery and changing where I’m going, just so that you don’t get bored. And I’m a photographer. I would get bored very quickly staying in the same place, and always seeing the same things.”

Actually, yesterday, the Stranger (her name is Emily, Stranger 87) is getting into photography, too. Her father is always an accomplished photographer. So, let me ask you a question that I asked her. What do you like to take photographs of?

“I like to take photographs of people that are not paying attention. So just real life.”

Candids.

“Yes. But really, real real-life. Like people just doing random things. Doesn’t even have to be something specific. That’s just how I see. When I walk around, I just see that. I’m a natural observer, so I like taking photos of just life happening.”

Thinking about one of those pictures that you took that really resonated with you — very powerful to you. Can you describe that picture?

Kelley thinks about this for a moment. “There’s probably a few. I do a lot of hands… sometimes. Hands or feet. For some reason, those photos seem to tell a better story than the person’s actual face. I don’t know why. I think it might be just because of our point-of-views usually like our hands or just other things. So every time somebody’s just doing something with their hands, for whatever reason, they stick out to me.” She pauses for a moment, and asks herself out loud, “I wonder why? Something about hands…”

“I feel like they just tell a better story than the person’s actual face.”

What is the story your hands tell you?

“I think they tell me how I’m feeling of where I am. Usually, not hands on phones. I don’t really take those photos. But, just like if I’m taking a picture of a bride, and she’s getting ready. Her hands tell a lot about how she’s actually feeling. She might be doing something like this or fidgeting.” Kelley holds up her hands with fingers interlaced. “She doesn’t realize it because she’s making sure her face looks nice. But I can tell how she actually feels through her hands. I don’t know. Something about that speaks more than the person’s face.”

“Your face can lie, but your hands will be like… they’re doing something.”

So very much body language is very important to you.

“Yeah, because the way I shoot is more so I try to invoke a feeling or bring through feeling more so than surface value, if that makes sense.”

“So pose portraits, those don’t bring forth the true feeling as much as just a candid.” She strikes a pose to illustrate her point. “So those are my favorite.”

I’m looking at my hands now which are stretched out in front of me resting on the table. Fingers are interlaced. I ask her what does this say.

She laughs. “You’re in deep thought. You’re thinking of the next question.” Makes sense. We laugh together.

So you’re a nomad….

“Try to be…”

You’re a wannabe nomad. You love to stare at people’s hands and feet. (We laugh again.) I guess, what brought you to where you are today? Not just here in Atlanta or photography, but what brought you to where you are? Was there a life-defining moment that put you on this path?

“I think that I put a lot of stuff out in the universe that I want, and I don’t always know exactly what it is. But I do trust that I’ll get there — whatever it is, and I’ll figure it out. So actually when I’m looking back, I actually ask for all the different steps that led me to here. It’s really weird, but… photography, I’ve just been doing that since I was little. And then, I’ve just always wanted to be my own boss. Never put those two together — they’re very far points. And one day, we just bought a camera to take pictures of some t-shirts, and somehow that rolled out into a business where people pay me to take photos of their lives. I don’t know how.”

“But yeah. When I look back, I realize every step, or everything there was a reason, a purpose for everything. I don’t look at anything as a mistake or failure. They’re just like lessons, or shaping you to the next place. That’s really what I do.”

“I don’t even now where I’m going. I don’t even know what’s the final stop!”

Thinking about the pictures and the feelings, I’m curious what does taking pictures or photographs mean to you?

“Well, I used to move around a lot. And I always had one of those little Kodak cameras because I knew when I was moving. I was in a different school every year because my parents were divorced. So I just started taking pictures to remember things… to remember my memories. I was, obviously, the only person that carried around a camera — WEIRDO!” she exclaims. Haha

“I would take pictures of people, and just people I wanted to remember. I would have books and books of the actual…” she resets. “When you go to CVS to print out photos. I just think that was just a way for me to remember my life because I knew it was always going to be changing. That’s why I never put 2 and 2 together that it was a business. I was just trying to preserve my own memories.”

Makes sense! I think right now, like you said, and I think what you said was interesting — to take pictures of people at events and their special moments. It means a lot to them the pictures. Was curious what those pictures meant to you.

“Yeah, just me trying to take pictures for myself. That turned into people wanting me to take pictures of them. I was like, ‘Sure! That’s fine.'”

What would you do if you weren’t afraid? (Thanks to Emily, Stranger 88)

“If I wasn’t afraid, I would contact Vogue magazine, and ask them to look at my work.”

But I would never do that,” she very, very quietly whispers.

“You would never do that?” I whisper back to her.

“I mean, I am. One day, I will be on the cover. But I don’t want them…” She explains, ‘I have to be in a better place first. So basically, I don’t think I’m good enough, yet.”

What are some of the steps to get there?

“I am working on getting clients that have awesome locations, or want to do things that would be considered, I guess, cool for Vogue — so, I would be able to show them. Or, that they would actually be interested in.”

“Like, I have a wedding in Iceland. So I thought that, like, take pictures and then maybe I’ll feel like contacting somebody.” She laughs. “I guess.”

So now, it’s your turn. What would you like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

“A question that I would ask the next Stranger is… are you doing everything you can to be happy?”

“I like to know if people are actually happy in their lives. Or just to get them to think about it.”

After the handshake.

Kelley was fantastic. She had great energy, and I enjoyed getting to know how much she appreciated the details that are more often than not, go unnoticed. Oftentimes, we notice the details of the bigger things like maybe it’s the smile of a person’s face or the light wrinkles of experience on someone’s face. Kelley appreciated the more nondescript part of the person — his/ her hands (and feet).

After our little Stranger introduction, we talked a little bit longer. She had a huge smile, and like other Strangers, she was glowing. She shared how she was just… happy, and that she felt great to talk to someone on a deeper level. We spoke for about 15 minutes, and I could tell that brief moment made her morning and that energy would carry through for the rest of the day.

Meet Kelley. No longer a Stranger.

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