I started Talking to Strangers last winter, in February of 2019. While taking a photojournalism course, I’d decided to interview and photograph members of the South-American community near Elephant and Castle, but it just wasn’t working out. I couldn’t bring myself to actually talk to anybody.
This felt like a tragedy because all I wanted to do was connect and hear their stories. But when I got close, my stomach tightened and I could feel my mind start to float off. I wished I could be anywhere but there. Dissociation is a common symptom of anxiety.
At any given time, over 8 million people across the UK suffer from varying degrees of anxiety. Imagine a city about the size of London, gripped by a strange, intense panic, all waiting for the bus together, but each feeling completely alone. Some have trouble approaching strangers or their voice shakes when they order a coffee. Others can’t leave the house for weeks at a time, in a vicious cycle that leaves them more anxious, isolated and depressed. I was one of the lucky ones.
Still, if I wanted to have anything to show at the end of my course, I’d have to confront my fear of talking to strangers. I decided this was going to be my new project. It would be in equal parts about collecting people’s stories, and about challenging myself.
I don’t know if anxiety can be “cured” by exposure, aka “just facing your fears”. If that’s all it takes, your case is mild and you’re one of the lucky ones. But I don’t think that’s what I was trying to do and I can tell you it didn’t magically make me “better”. It did teach me a lot, though, about myself and others, about situations, life stories and taking portraits. I feel a little more comfortable talking to someone new and asking for a photo and a story. And it’s taught me that, generally speaking, the world is a much kinder, more open place than I had given it credit for.
I’ve kept this project open-ended and add to it whenever I can. I’ll be posting the portraits & stories one at a time. Check them out here.