The Odd Couple

It’s February but it’s still 29 degrees. I have walked into the down town area of San Diego from my cousin’s house in Hillcrest. The sun is very bright and direct, so whoever I am going to shoot will need to be in some sort of shade away from the harsh southern Californian glare. The streets are mixture of oversaturated light and dark pools of shadow as the buildings create natural corridors of light, but there is one interesting phenomena I see though that I’ve noticed before in Brighton down in front of the burnt out pier. In certain places the sun is hitting the glass front of a tall building at just the right angle to be reflected back down to the ground, creating an area of wonderfully soft light that is quite mesmerising. There is a security guard patrolling the area right where the light is falling and he has a gun so I decide to first ask if it’s OK for me to use the space to take a picture and surprisingly he says it’s fine.

Kathy & Fern

Kathy & Fern

I ‘hang out’, waiting for someone interesting to approach. I’m a little on the back foot here because I am not sure of the rules; on the one hand, I know my English accent and British charm will go a long way. On the other, the political and social landscape in America has changed beyond all recognition recently. We might well be through the looking glass at this point and so I’m not confident that my quaint Englishness is going to carry the day.

I see Kathy and Fern approaching and immediately am drawn to them both and their potential for being the ‘Odd Couple’; I figure they are friends in their older age and perhaps rely on each other for companionship. Both their faces are etched with life lines and interesting expressions and there is a sense of independence about them I find intriguing. It’s a risk to approach them because I might have completely misjudged the situation but I throw caution to the wind.

I manage to persuade them to be photographed together and we move over to the spot where the light is falling best. I spend a little time just trying to get them relaxed a little and explaining what I do and what I want them to do but I can tell there’s a frisson of nerves from them both. I notice Kathy’s ‘US Army’ badge on her baseball cap and ask if she was in the army to which she says she served for 25 years in the logistics corps’. This helps as one of my other cousins (it’s a big family) served in the US military and was in Gulf One. This helps us bond a little and they relax a fraction so I step back to compose and take the shot.

As I look through the view finder I can still see the slight tension in them both. They are standing less than hand span apart, smiling but nervous, their arms hanging by their sides. I wait for a moment and then see them instinctively reach for each other’s hand, almost without conscious effort they find an easy grip. It suddenly occurs to me that my initial perception was way off. I lower the camera.

‘May I just ask, because it will help make a good photograph, what the relationship is between you, I mean are you friends have you known each other long…?’

I’m trying to be sensitive hence I skirt around the subject a little and try to give them the option to tell me whatever they are comfortable with. There’s a pause and before they answer they look at each other and laugh a little nervously and then pause again before Kathy says that they are partners and have been together for 25 years. The release of tension makes them relax as I tell them I am honoured and touched that they have shared that information with me. They tell me that it wasn’t easy to begin with, that there would be all kinds of terrible things called out to them as they walked down the street but that thankfully in recent years they feel they had gained acceptance.

It’s moments like these that really touch me as a photographer. They make me realise the bravery of people who just want to live their lives and find the person they want to be with. The shutter release is just a means by which these insights are revealed.