TPL: What happens when you go out with your camera? Do people respond positively to you, or do you sometimes get negative reactions? If yes, how do you handle it?
CJW: I normally am shy. But when I gather my photo gear and head downtown, I become transformed. People on Sixth Street tell me I constantly smile. That I exude good energy. I sometimes find this hard to believe, knowing that I can brood and circle the drain with the best of them, but I enjoy wonderful interactions on almost every outing. Because I smile so much, people smile back. Because I’ve gotten to know so many people, I often find myself surrounded by folks who just want to talk and catch up. From the start, I vowed to document people with dignity and respect - to avoid stealth shooting. To be transparent. I think people know this about me and respect me.
It’s funny. Every so often, I feel the urge to honor classic street photography - to take candid shots in the tradition of such greats as Vivian Maier, Helen Levitt, and Garry Winogrand. But almost every time I try, I fail. I’ll see a fascinating character on the other side of the street and say dang it, I have to go meet this person. And so it goes.
The highest compliment I have received from members of the homeless community is that I represent the people.
For sure, I have had negative reactions, and I have been scared on a few occasions. If someone gets upset with me, I try to quickly read the situation. Often, that means simply walking away, which I have learned is a form of respect. People have a right to their privacy and their space.