In 2017 I was at the peak of my life on the road with no address, no partner, and really no desire for either.
As we approached 2018, there was no question that it would be another year of calling just my own body and mind home. I wanted to continue showering in the next stall over from someone who spoke a language I didn't, waking up early to fill up on a free hostel breakfast before they stopped serving it, and indulge in the most intoxicating, nameless feeling which I'm convinced can only be produced by timidly stepping foot into a dark, rich and humid salsa bar with a group of strangers who morph into your best friends in just a couple of days.
You don't have to go far from home to get these feelings, but there's better odds if you do.. more on that another time. My point is that at this time, I personally did have to go far away to feel alive... which meant a lot of time in airports.
Luckily for me, I enjoy my time at airports. It's part of the whole shebang and the biggest anticipation point right before you get to your destination. It feels like stolen time to practice a little more Spanish, justify drinking a $20 bloody mary at 6:00 AM, setting up an office on the floor, and the best part; people watching.
Where is everyone going, and why? What do they do for work and fun? These questions occupied my mind enough to keep me off of Instagram, which is not an easy task (I hate that I've got a scrolling addiction.)
So, at the end of 2017 I dreamed up a project for the next year; every time I was in an airport I would take a photo of a someone.
I thought it would be beneficial for a few reasons:
- It would be great photography practice. I thought it would even help with my wedding gigs; a full day of taking photos of people you don't know, which can be incredibly anxiety inducing and draining
- It would give me something to do besides stare at a screen or drink expensive airport alcohol
- It would push me out of my comfort zone
In each airport, I would walk around searching for someone I could photograph. I didn't have much rhyme or reason on who I chose; sometimes I would look for someone who had an interesting vibe, someone who just so happen to be sitting in a pocket of "good light", or someone who just looked approachable because I was nervous to be told "no" when I asked to take their photo. (Which did happen, but only a couple of times. It still felt like someone crushed throat.)
After much trial and error, I fine tuned my approach and elevator speech. Once I found my person, I would walk up to them smiling. I would ask how it's going, and then just spill the beans; "Hi, I'm Aminda and I'm a photographer who travels a lot so I created a project where I take a photo of a stranger at every airport I visit. You caught my eye because <insert reason here, for example; I love the way you're resting your feet on your suitcase> and I was wondering if you would mind being my stranger for this airport?"
Most would turn from confused (the look they have while I was walking up) to curious and a beautiful kind of shy. They'd often ask "What is this for?" to which I would respond "for me to practice and use my time at the airport creatively."
I learned a lot about people and connection through this project, and the magic between the two. That wasn't on my list of objectives, but it is the most important outcome.
This project wasn't always creative, easy or fun. In some foreign airports I dreaded taking the photo. My camera was in the bottom of my backpack and I didn't want to dig it out, I was was feeling extra nervous that day, I was running late, I was tired, I didn't know how to say it in whatever language I needed to, and the list goes on. But I did it. Most of the time it was an exchange (me asking the person to take their photo) but some times I would shoot the photo "from the hip" or street style, just as an observer without introducing myself.
After a year of airports, I decided to keep it going in 2019. I missed some airports in 2019 but I'm glad I didn't let it completely die after the first year.
Why am I just putting these on my website now, in 2022? Well, for the last 5 years I haven't been proud of this project. In fact, I was pretty disappointed in myself for the lack of consistency in the images. The photos range in quality, style, tones, what information I gathered from each stranger, and every other possible factor out there.
My brain craves the idea of a nice-and-neat project with everything in that project perfectly aligning, looking perfect as a whole, executed in the most productive way, and to be all wrapped up with a perfectly tied bow at the end of it. See how many times I used the word "perfect" there? Yuck.
Recently I felt the urge to sort through these images and put them all together. Seeing them as a body of work made me even more disappointed; they are all so different... I thought.
But after looking at them and just letting them sink in, something in my perspective changed...
What the fuck is consistent about airports and travel? NOTHING. In fact, the whole thing is pretty unpredictable. And if we're being honest with ourselves, isn't that why we do it? To get out of our own consistency of day-in-day-out? To learn (or unlearn) something new about the world and ourselves?
Now, in 2022, this project has taught me yet another lesson. Perfection isn't real nor wanted, and even though these photos range from a Canon 5dMii, Sony Ar7iii, a pocket Ricoh and an iPhone, in airports at all hours of the day, shot while experiencing many moods and circumstances -- there's still something that ties them all together. I took them. I saw these people and places, and I grew from them. I was there.
Much gratitude for all of these fellow travelers, these airports, and TSA PreCheck. 😜
54 departures later...