PORTLAND, Maine — My cameras are heavy. I usually carry two and they each weigh about six pounds. That’s why he struggled to pick it up.
The little boy, Prince, never did get it up to his eye but his finger found the shutter button. He aimed it, too, and took a picture of me while I was taking a picture of him. I only saw the blurred image later, while editing shots for the story.
The photo struck me, hard.
It was only a split second of time, recorded in pixels and electricity, but it’s that kind of unexpected human connection that keeps me in this business. I suspect it always will.
I met Prince in the Expo last week while working a story about asylum seekers with my colleague, Nick Schroeder, and a French-speaking interpreter. We had an hour, at lunchtime, to find some folks willing to talk to us and be photographed. We wanted their side of the story amid conflicting narratives coming from politicians at City Hall.
It’s been a divisive story all summer. The legal asylum seekers, mostly from Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo, started arriving in June. The city set up a temporary shelter for them at the Expo and has slowly been finding them housing. But a deadline is looming. Everyone has to be out of the Expo when the Red Claws basketball team comes back on Aug. 15.
Prince and his mother, Sephora, are two of the roughly 264 people still waiting for a place to live. They were just finishing lunch when we met them. The Expo was sweltering and loud. Sephora looked tired.
I sat near her while she talked to Nick and the interpreter. I was hoping she would agree to being photographed. While I waited, her little boy, Prince came up to me, interested in my cameras.
It’s universal. No matter where kids come from, they want to look at my equipment. My cameras have always been my passport into other people’s lives.
I didn’t have his mother’s permission to photograph him. Instead, I took a picture of myself making a funny face and showed it to him on the back of the camera. He laughed and immediately started pressing buttons.
Prince found the zoom control in an instant. Then, he amused himself by zooming in and out on my nose and laughing. I pointed to my real nose and named it. He then pointed to his own and said something that might have been “nose.”
He laughed some more. I did too. It was our only common language.
About then, Nick asked Sephora if pictures were OK. She said they were. I photographed them together and then Prince ran off with some other kids.
Troy R. Bennett
Troy R. Bennett is a Buxton native and longtime Portland resident whose photojournalism has appeared in media outlets all over the world.
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