784/800 - Elizabeth
I saw her standing outside Toronto’s historic St. Lawrence Market and I was immediately drawn to her put-together stylish look. Her hat set things off nicely and her hat, scarf, and coat were a nicely cooridinated look and I had a feeling that meeting her would be an interesting experience. She was talking on her phone so I walked around aimlessly for 2-3 minutes, hoping she would end her call soon before I started looking like a suspicious character. When I saw her end the call, I approached her before she dialed another. After introducing myself and telling her of my wish to photograph her for my project because of her friendly face and stylish look she was obviously somewhat taken by surprise. Why would you ever want to take a photo of an old lady? I said it was because I felt she was very photogenic and would make a good contribution to my project.
When a stranger engages at all, it is a good sign – even if they are questioning things. “You aren’t going to do something awful with your photos are you?” I laughed and said “Not at all. It’s a very respectful project.” I showed her the sample photos on my contact card and said I like meeting a wide variety of interesting people and she took me a bit by surprise by saying “You think these people are really interesting?” I said I sure did after which she agreed that one of the six was interesting. I was slightly off-balance at this point but felt the engagement and had a feeling it would be a nice encounter and photograph. Meet Elizabeth.
“But there isn’t even anyplace for me to fix myself up” she said. “Believe me,
Elizabeth, you don’t need to. You look great just the way you are and my project photos are always casual and without preparation. “If you think so” she said. She went on to tell me that what I called her “stylishly coordinated look” was really just thrown together without thought. Sure. She said she has had a ferocious toothache and called her doctor who sent her to the pharmacy to pick up an antibiotic he prescribed, after which she must see her dentist. I sympathized. There are few things more miserable than an infected tooth. She said she had not been able to sleep last night.
I positioned her near the mural painted on the Market building and tried coaxing her to tip her hat brim up a little bit so the light could reach her eyes which are very attractive. No dice. She said “It’s already tipped up and I don’t want to move it.” Ok. Time for the reflector. Elizabeth held the reflector for me and had a habit of looking away from the camera, then giving only passing glances at my lens. I’ve had this happen before. It would have been good if she could have held still more but these are the challenges of street portraiture.
We chatted a bit and I asked to take a couple more portraits in the middle of our conversation because I thought her eyes were catching a bit more light. Just before we parted 10 minutes later, I took a couple more when I realized there was a covered passageway on the side of the grocery store.
When I asked her where she was from (she had excellent English but a European accent) she said “I’m from all over the world.” “May I ask how old you are?” “You certainly may not” (twinkle in her eye). “You should know to never as a woman her age.” We shared a laugh. As we chatted it came out that Elizabeth was born in Warsaw Poland and came to Canada at age 17 after living in a number of countries as refugees. Most of her family was exterminated in World War 2 and her mother had decided that Canada was the safest country for her and her daughter. Elizabeth liked France and felt she could have had a better life had they stayed in France but that was not in the plan. “I like music and the arts. I played piano and have a very artistic personality” she said. “Canada has been peaceful, but not that friendly. I was sorry to hear that this has been her experience but it warmed my heart when she said “Not many people are like you, kind, friendly, and interested in others.” I told her my project has allowed me to meet many interesting and generous people like her and it has enriched my retirement.
Elizabeth has a computer but is not a computer person. She doesn’t use email so I offered to have her photos printed at a local store and mail them to her. She was very pleased at the offer but couldn’t stand that I was going to bear expense. She wanted to pay me and I had to insist it was my pleasure and a small gesture given that she had been kind enough to pose for me with a toothache on a cold, windy spring Toronto day. It was only with great reluctance that she gave up trying to at least pay me for the postage. She asked if I came to the Market often and I said “Fairly often.” “Perhaps we will meet again and I will pay youyou’re your expense. “It will be nice if we meet again but no, you will not pay me for the postage.” What a delightful woman. I’m amazed at the things people endure (the loss of so many family members and the disruption of her early life by war) and yet they can still find kindness within themselves.
Thank you Elizabeth for participating in 100 Strangers. You are #784 in Round 8 of my project. I enjoyed meeting you and I wish you well with your toothache.
Find out more about the project and see pictures taken by the other photographers in our group at the 100 Strangers Flickr Group page.