Street photographer and citizen of the world
As announced, this is the first in what will be a series of blipper profiles.
To say that Al Doerksen (aka RaspberryJefe on Blipfoto) is ‘into people’ would be a gross understatement. His journal is a tapestry of characters he encounters and engages with on the streets of Canada (where he’s from) and Mexico (where he escapes during cold months).
“I’m a bit of a Curious George. I find out about a protest and I immediately head out to see what is happening. I hear a gun shot and must investigate. I see a wash line of clothes by the street or a person with a tattoo and I go there. What I really want, beyond taking a picture, is to find out what the story behind it is.”
His curiosity is born from a lifetime of experiences living abroad. As a kid, he accompanied his Mennonite missionary parents on assignments abroad. He then carried on the vagabond tradition by working for profit and non-profit organizations, always with an international focus, and has bounced around in no less than 95 countries.
Al joined Blipfoto 4 years ago, because a friend of his was doing it. “I was retired, in need of a challenge, and decided to try it. It took me a little while to find my sweet spot. Within weeks, I realized I needed to have some ‘human’ content in each photo – faces usually, but not always.”
Deep down, we’re more similar than different.
Al considers himself a street photographer and doesn’t subscribe to the purist notion that, in street photography, subjects are supposed to be unaware. In fact, ‘engagement’ seems to be a defining characteristic of Al’s photography.
“I’ve always had a fascination with and an interest in people, differing cultures, expressions of faith and ways of working. You know, once you start engaging with others, you quickly come to realize that we’re not really that different from one another.” To illustrate that point, he mentions meeting with both Mother Theresa and Bill Gates while working in India. “You couldn’t have two people that were more different, by life circumstances, yet, here they were – both preoccupied with achieving the same goal.”
Just show up!
If you’re like most people, you probably find it intimidating to approach strangers on the street.
Here’s what Al advises: “The first thing is simply to show up! I learned this from my artist wife, Agatha: don’t plan; just get out there! I look for people with interesting features (a tattoo, a nice hat, a piece of clothing, an unusual activity) and use that as a hook to start a conversation. Ask if you can take their picture; some will say ‘no’ and you have to respect that, but don’t let it discourage you. Mostly, don’t be afraid to have a conversation. The gift of gab comes in handy, for sure!”
While this is a bit of work, he says the rewards are phenomenal for the interesting stories he hears and the relationships he develops. In fact, the featured photo – Street Friends -- is one he took of a group of people he’s come to know intimately over months and considers his friends.
When asked what his favorite encounter was, he admonishes me about the use of superlatives (point taken, Al!) but quickly cites an occasional series he photographs, entitled “Engaging Strangers” in which he pairs off random people on the street. He’s pleased with the sense of relationship these pix create and with the “fantastic imagery of the kind of world I want to see.”
Al becomes wistful when talking about one portrait in particular of a homeless man, a Vietnam war vet, whose picture he tried taking several times to no avail. The man finally agreed – after seeking the approval of his sister using Al’s phone. A few months later, the sister called Al to let him know her brother had passed and could she please have a few of the images Al took as the family did not have any pictures of the man. “These are the times I feel especially good about what I do as a photographer. And, I always want people to feel good about how they are represented through my photography.”
Al enjoys the platform for the implicit social commentaries it allows him to make – in particular about who people – who seem so different – really are. “I hope that my photos in some way contribute to a broader acceptance of diversity within our communities. That would be a win for me.”
He does say that daily blipping requires discipline: “I have to find content that seems unique (to me), while remaining edgy and succinct in my narratives. And I want to take the time to look and comment on the blips of others. I also love how I can learn from fellow blippers and continue to be inspired by their work.
He gets a kick out of traffic on his postings and the comments he gets. As a people person, he loves the many virtual relationships that become so easy – and lasting -- through Blipfoto, as well as the real relationships he’s developed on the street in the course of his daily expeditions.
As a final comment, Al recommends completing a visual CV. He says that the exercise of answering the questions about himself through photos – many of them published in blip – was a very useful exercise in self-reflection.
Remarks collected by Michele
We hope you’ve enjoyed this first blipper profile. We really would like to make this a regular feature BUT we need your help to do so!
If you know any blippers that you find interesting, please contact us at 'Community@blipfoto.com' and tell us their name and journal name and why you think they should be interviewed. We’ll be happy to do the follow up!