For quite some time, I have been taking photographs of the old and forgotten. I do it as a mode of therapy. There is a subtle calmness that occurs when I am alone and entirely focused on capturing the best representation of overlooked and underappreciated architecture.
A recent trip into the heart of South Phoenix was intended to be another one of these expeditions. Yet, I believe that this particular trip will always have a special place in my memory.
The morning I went down, I got up early. My sole mission was to capture images of buildings in the area. Coffee in hand, I drove slowly around the very core of the Valley of the Sun's low-income inner city.
I am sure you are aware as well as I am that there are stereotypes related to economical depressed parts of town. There is certainly a level of caution I exercise whether it's doing homeless work or only taking pictures I these areas.
I was walking the perimeter of a rundown hotel with my camera in hand. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a young man standing near my truck, dressed like a gangster. He was peering at me, being observant and stealthy. I slowly turned around and approached him. I asked him how he was doing. Simple question, right?
Not so simple.
He began his response by asking me what was I doing there? I shared with him how I use photographic prints to help homeless people across the country. This kicked off a very long, very honest conversation. It is a conversation that I have pondered many times since. It left a mark on my soul; one that will be there forever. That coversation completely changed the way I view other people.
What Enrique told me broke my heart. The details are difficult to describe. Out of respect for Enrique and his story, I believe they should be kept private. But believe me when I tell you that a child should never have to go through what Enrique went through.
After we spoke, I asked Enrique if I could share his story. He agreed. He wanted to help others.
We spent about thirty more minutes together. He offered me some jokes and some more life stories. I offered him a listening ear. The results of that day's photoshoot are the photos you see here. When we were done, I asked him if he needed anything. Maybe a bite to eat? "No," he said, with a giant smile on his face. "No one has ever been this nice to me. You have made this day a good one."
All I did was engage him as a fellow human being.
We all are guilty of stereotyping. We all make assumptions. Some of which are, indeed, valid.
But, you never know who you're standing across from. In this case, any assumptions made as to why this kid was where he was. Wearing the clothes he had, his dirty shoes and messy haircut, all suggested to a thuggish persona. No question.
Yet, there is a tree of truth standing in the forest of subjective perception. There is always more to the story than what you first see. And we mustn't lose this. No matter what we witness on the face of a situation, we can't allow ourselves to miss the humanity of all the Enriques in the world. We can't allow ourselves to ignore the image of God in the faces of our wounded brothers and sisters.
To genuinely understand grace, we must intimately understand the significance of the Cross and the Resurrection. When you apply the paradigm of grace to all humanity, from an entirely different perspective. You will experience life through the lens of beauty. Reality, viewed from the perspective of true love, is a gift from God that should be held precious and sought after wholeheartedly.
Trust me on this one. When you can see past the surface and every person with empathy, this world will, in fact, become a better place. And I promise you will be blessed.