I started taking photos of strange men in the streets of Chicago over four years ago. It wasn't my idea-- it was theirs.
"Hey honey, you gonna take my picture?"
It happens any time I step outside with a camera around my neck. It's a tired reality for most women in an urban environment, but the camera somehow amplifies the attention-- by being a woman doing a thing in a public space, I invite commentary not only on my activity but on how I look when I'm doing it. My rule has always been: don't engage. It's not worth it.
And then one day, one man too many sidled up and asked what the pretty lady was doing behind the camera instead of in front of it and didn't I want to take his picture too, and something snapped.
"Sure," I replied. "I'd love to."
As a rule, they had to be the one to initiate. If the question was implied but not clearly stated, I would clarify.
“Are you asking me to take your picture?”
Most of them were surprised. I started smiling and shaking hands and meeting their eyes. I showed them their photographs and wished them the best. If at any point I felt threatened, I'd excuse myself and walk away. It was easier than I'd expected to be polite. By saying yes, I'd interrupted the familiar narrative and stolen back a piece of control. I started talking more while I set up the frame, asking questions and answering any in turn. I began taking notes-- on what exactly men were saying to me and how it was they were saying it. What you hear when a man's talking to you because he's feeling confident and what it sounds like when he's feeling lonely. The difference between misguided and misogyny.
In the moments with the men below, I did my best to tell their stories with as little editorializing as I know how. Some of them generally follow the script outlined above-- others were curious onlookers or friendly passersby. As a rule, I've represented the entire range of these interactions, without concern for whatever I interpreted their motives to be-- if I was approached in a public space by someone who specifically solicited me to take their photo, they have been included here. If anyone expressed a wish that I keep their picture private, or if I believed any other ethical considerations to be at play (mental illness or situational biases), their photo has not been shared.
It does not feel productive for me to use these portraits to offer sweeping condemnation or judgment. Neither do I mean to excuse a particular brand of behavior, or to promote my approach as any kind of solution. My best attempt, then, is just to share the moments I've experienced as a young, professional woman in a public space. These are the men I met along the way.