"Can we have a picture too?"
A woman appears beside the van with her two kids behind her and baskets to sell. We offer her a photograph of her children in lieu of giving money. As the photographs are printing, the boy begins pressing buttons on the printer and turns it off, leaving a photograph with a half-printed face that his sister clutches tightly even after we print photos that have survived the toddler anarchy of her brother.
The van gets looks everywhere we go. As we’re interacting with the basket woman and her family, kids in their school uniforms are streaming by on their way home. The bolder ones stand on the periphery, giggling, and we offer to photograph them. Pretty soon all of us are absorbed in photographing the ten to fifteen kids that seem excited for a picture.
I opt to film this event that’s suddenly unfolded with the kids. Filming comes with a strangely impassive state of mind—a fly on the wall, on alert to observe everything at once, because the moments only happen once.
At my elbow a boy asks me if he can have a picture. I say yes and look around. Joel, Aidan, and Parker are swamped. There’s a line forming. I have no idea how we’re going to fit them in before we have to start turning people away. I abandon my job of documenting to talk to the boys. The smaller one of the two introduces himself as Jason. They seem to have trouble understanding me, but Jason steps forward.
“We do Arts,” he says.
They shake their heads no, and Jason reaches into his backpack and produces an origami basket.
“It’s a garbage can,” he says.
I hold back a laugh because it’s a neat little creation and his chosen use is to throw garbage in it. I tell them I know how to fold hats, and Jason dips into his backpack again and hands over 8 tiny folded hats, created with a much more complex design than the ones I know how to make.
“You’ve made enough to start a factory,” I say, and they grin.
While doing this project, the spontaneous situations like this one come with having to overcome shyness, suspicion, navigating what to do when people who need money ask for it, each party not being able to understand what the other one needs, or having to pick up and leave a moment after introducing yourself. Putting many people in the rearview over and over creates some emotional garbage that can be hard to take out, the stress becoming one of the darker sides of the project.
The number of interactions is growing all the time, and we are lucky because the remnant of our experiences is insanely precious: a photograph.