Humans of an Irreverent Moment
This is an abandoned project, a failure, perhaps an irreverent moment for myself.
I am big fan of ‘Humans of New York’ and all it’s subsequent offspring of major cities. However, the interviews - I find, are all set in the past. Hearing peoples stories, sometimes beautiful, sometimes tragic are indisputably nostalgic. I personally think that nostalgia is an important tool - to go back, into our memories and subconscious to see previously unknown treasure. To learn new lessons which are infinitely valuable in our present and for our ‘future presences’.
I believe in hope, in goals, in finding presence within ones self is the only healthy way to move forward through time.
So I set out on a sunny day in Bristol to do my own version of ‘Humans of New York’. Only my version would be focused on now, on the future, on presence and purpose.
So instead of asking the question; ‘Where have you been?’ I was going to ask; ‘Why are you here?’
Finding the title of my project was a task in itself - finding the purpose and meaning of my own endeavor. I realised quite quickly that in going around asking people 'Why are you here?' was clearly about asking myself the same question.
'Humans of Bristol'? Nah, there probably already is one. I don’t think place names are important in the scheme of human consciousness. I don’t think borders are important, or even land, or even what planet we are on, or further still - which universe. I realised this by going through the process of ever increasing importance of the name by searching for already existing groups or projects. Sadly, ‘Humans of planet Earth’ and ‘Humans of the universe’ had already been taken. I stopped and questioned the true importance of my project - Humans! Humans of Humans! I think that humanity is the most important thing here. Sadly ‘Humans of Humanity’ had also already been taken.
And then a voice in my head spoke the words; 'Humans of an Irreverent Moment’
I didn't even know the meaning of the word irreverent, so I looked it up:
1 showing a lack of respect for people or things that are generally taken seriously.
Perfect! I had just realised where I needed to go with this. The irreverence of ourselves. The lack of respect we show to the purpose of our own lives.
I believe that we all know where we are going, what we want to do and what we are doing to prevent that. I believe we all know, deep down, with absolute certainty, why we are here, what we were put on this earth to do. But people, including myself are irreverent of that fact. We disrespect ourselves of that freedom. So, if people are going to be irreverent toward their own purpose in life, then I was going to set out and be irreverent of them… in order for them to be aware of their purpose, right there, right then, on a street, with some strange photographer asking them deep cutting existential questions, these people would agree with themselves to bring to life, the purpose of their life.
Or so I thought…
I tested out my new found 'technique' on my friend Marty. You'll recognise him from my 'three Questions' Project. It of course worked like a charm, because Marty is a highly intelligent, conscious and aware person. However, this was not an accurate test. Because we are friends, we also have a level of trust - of which, I wasn't going to have with the total strangers I was about to approach on the street. I'd also had the chance to explain the project to Marty highlighting the proposed outcome. So he knew what I wanted to hear basically.
Marty was also an innacurate subject for this project, in that he already knows his purpose. He's a humanitarian, he works with refugees - feeding them, teaching them art, helping them. He is also a gifted and respected painter and perhaps his paintings of the people he meets are a catalyst to bring important social issues to the attention of the world.
I asked him anyway.
Why are you here? "I asked a girl at at party last week 'What's life about? Why are you here?’
I’m the one usually asking everyone else that. I think I'm here for my experience of being here and you are here for your experience of being here. Mine, I hope involves communication and being an idiot and hopefully lots of love. Your experience is yours and I think that I'm neither to be had expectation of or to have an expectation of someone else's purpose, but if we meet and it's cool, then we're here together."
Beautiful. If I get answers of this nature from everyone else I, and anyone reading this are probably going to learn some beautiful things. But will it work with strangers? This is where my journey truly began. I set off down to the Bear Pit which is a central point of multiple underground walkways underneath the busy roundabout above that connects Bristol city centre with stokes croft, Cabot Circus and Broadmead. All walks of life walk through here.
Lets get one things straight. I am a shy, socially awkward person. Approaching complete strangers and asking not only to take their picture, but to answer questions of this nature scares the absolute crap out of me. I'm also a firm believer in facing your fears, and that once you do this, the reality of the pre-assesed situation is infinitely more beautiful than you could have imagined. 'Face your fears and you'll get gold'. I told myself.
The first person I approached (or who approached me) was dancing (literally) to the sound of his own beat on the bench which I was sitting at. Paul, I came to know him as had wandered over from a large group of people I recognised as 'always being there'. The dudes that sit and drink and smoke weed all day, rain or shine. This was his patch, and he was marking his territory.
When I asked him the question, he 'rapped' his answer.
Why are you here? "I love this world man. Born to be a star Paul superstar, R.B.K, Rough blood Kid, R.A.W, stand Up, P.I.T, cream of the crop, none stop, chrome don't drop, just love hip hop, send this one to Dre."
After my brief encounter of various poses with Paul of having to the point of having to stop him from licking my camera lense, I was approached by a shirtless, rather angry looking guy asking if I was leaving my stuff on the bench.
'I was going to yeh' I answered.
'Well, can you not?'
I looked at the skateboard he was holding and realised I wasn't sitting on a real life public bench at all, but one purely for grinding skateboards across.
I ran to the nearest safe sitting spot.
The next person I approached was Zoltan. He had just suffered from the same dilemma. I watched, saying nothing as he sat on the same 'claimed bench' as skating guy skidded on over and asked him to move in a doubly aggressive manner, this time with swear words. Zoltan skulked over to the nearest safe place, which was directly next to me.
Why are you here? "I was on a job interview, I came from Leicester, it was 4 hours on the bus. It's was for an assistant manager in a restaurant but it's different type of place. I'm going to meet a friend here.
I don't know why I'm here but I know that this is the best time on the earth, because in the future we'll all be robots. And the middle ages was boring, there were wars. I'm not a huge fan of that. But I don't know why I'm here at the moment, right now. Maybe it's related to my parents. Because they made me."
Cant argue with that.
I thanked Zoltan and after a brief but awkward moment of realising there was no-where I could really go and sit without us staring blankly at each other, I decided to approach the next person directly in my line of site and keep on a roll. Just then, I heard a huge scraping thud behind me. I turned to see skater guy crumpled on the floor with bleeding cuts down his body and a grimace on his face. He stood up and sweared loudly. I saw Zoltan observing with a secret smile on his face.
The guy I was heading towards was pleasantly enjoying the sunshine, headphones on and reading a book. I tenderly interrupted him hoping he wasn't insane.
Why are you here? "I'm on my lunch break and wanted some fresh air. I moved to Bristol because I wanted a change and I came just on a whim. I had friends here, I wanted a different social life, it was a safe move.
I guess I'm here to leave it (the Earth) a better place than I started, I want to do that by improving the environment. I'm doing a masters course to push renewables and sustainability."
Fuck Yes! Finally, a real human with real values, an honest purpose and a practical approach. 'It works! My technique works!' I thought. Jay wished me luck with the project. Happy with our exchange I walked to the far side of the pit and had a celebratory cigarette. Just at that moment I noticed a man walking towards me, basking in the sun, relaxed and with a smile on his face. 'This guy knows his purpose' I thought.
Why are you here? (translated from broken English) "I'm here for my children to finish uni, it was to help them. I made a decision to try and not judge from the newspapers or from the news, but to see what happens here - if it's true or not. I think about social issues, Europeans never tell the truth on serious issues, maybe friends and family, but not to strangers."
'You're European and I'm a stranger and you just told me the truth' I said.
"Today is my day off, I'm here to enjoy the sunshine and to just 'look'."
I liked this answer.
As I scanned for my next target I saw a Somalian woman limping with a stick, in full traditional dress. She has to know some beautiful truth about the purpose of life I imagined.
'Why do you want to take my picture' I pictured the conversation as I approached her.
'Because I think you're beautiful' I prepared my reply.
As I gently approached her, camera in hand our eyes met.
'NO NO NO NO NO NO!' she screamed and waved her stick at me angrily.
I slowly walked backwards deflated and apologetic hoping no-one had seen me apparently harass this poor woman. Then I saw a man walking with a certain waltz, a zing in his step, John Lennon sunglasses and an incredible tie.
When I approached him he also was very curious as to my intentions.
'Why are you doing this?' He asked.
'Because its what I do' Came my retort.
'Whats it for?' he snapped.
'Erm... Instagram?' I mumbled.
Why are you here? "That's a complicated question. I left my motorbike outside of Bristol and had to come into the centre, but I stopped to get a present for my granddaughter. I'm heading to Gloucester Rd.
No, Why are you here?
'What's this for?' He asks again and starts to walk away quickly.
Why are you here on this Earth? I call out. But he's gone.
"I'm still working on that one."
Tony answered, head bowed with saddened eyes. His head bobbed back around the tunnel and disappeared from site.
The energy has changed, the bright sunny day in the Bear Pit has been replaced by an un-trusting, dark atmosphere. Skater guy is still kicking the shit out of thin air and the group of 'Pauls' drinkinga nd smoking is getting larger and increasingly louder.
'Ok, it's not working here, I'll relocate' I thought.
I head to Gloucester Rd toward St. Andrews park where I usually get into relaxed and interesting conversations with complete strangers all the time. I see a pleasant looking dude with tattoos smoking a cigarette on the way up. I stop and ask him the question.
Why are you Here? "I work at the urban standard.
Why am I here on Earth? Fuck knows, I don't know. I don't know, I don't know."
Jamie becomes agitated.
"I don't fucking know. It wasn't my choice. That's very nihilistic I know. I don't care why I'm here at the moment, I'm just trudging on."
Have you got any plans? I ask.
"I'm gonna move to Paris, because why not? I want to work in cocktail bar there.
Cool. What do you like about working in a bar?
"Because I've got power over customers?"
This utterly depresses me. After my mixed bag of answers in the Bear Pit and progressively nervous subjects, this is the final straw. I loose all hope for humanity and decide to abandon the project. I faced my fears and the gold is no-where to be seen. I head to the pub to sit and stew and stare angrily at my pint.
Seven people. I photographed seven people in one of the most diverse, friendly and socially conscious cities in the world and I've just lost all hope in humanity. 'What the fuck was that all about?' I thought as I pondered this bizarre and miserable sunny day.
Utterly perplexed by Jamies answers, that the purpose of his life was to 'have power over people' I realised that his nervousness and agitation and 'go to' nihilistic statement was in fact a frustration with not knowing his purpose. A nihilistic statement and lack of 'power' over himself.
I'd poked a hornets nest.
I hope the 'irreverence' of my question did good in ways I will not see. That Jamie walked back into that bar giving it some thought. But perhaps that's my naive and hopeful expression of finding a purpose to my own life.
The true realisation I came to is that it isn't my job to ask these questions of people. It isn't even my right and no matter my positive intentions, or by using an 'irreverent technique' - that respect must be given to all. That by respecting others we also respect ourselves, and come closer to undoing the irreverence of our own lifes purpose.
The lovely people I met all had something to teach me. Tony's honest answer of "I'm still working on that one" is completely honest. It's OK to not know your purpose. Paul "Loves this world" Incredible! Maybe Zoltan is right, we will all be robots! Jay knows exactly what he's doing and how he's going to do it and if we are still searching for what we are going to do, then maybe we should help him accomplish his purpose. Valdis gave a beautiful answer - how often do any of us walk around simply "To Look"?
And Jamie. perhaps he gives the greatest lesson of all. That its utterly OK to trudge along until you gain your own power.
It's OK to not know. Its OK to not even ask yourself or other people. I think the true purpose of both my day out in Bristol, as well as the meaning of the purpose of life on a whole, is simply that we should all just 'Stay Free.'
My thanks go out to all seven :-D people in this project, especially Zoltan.