About a week ago, I was street photographing in ‘Hamra’ a popular, touristic street in Beirut as I was waiting to meet a friend in one of the restaurants in the district. A stranger called for me from afar and walked over. I don’t remember the exact conversation but the stranger said she “followed” me because I looked at ease with my camera, while she felt “really lonely and singled-out” the one time she tried to do street photography and had left her camera, that she has named, “closeted” since. Before the conversation went too far, my friend who I was meeting showed up and was extremely freaked out by the encounter and the fact that I was “followed” by a stranger.
To begin with, I am strangely comfortable with being alone. I learned (the hard way) that books, pens, streets, trees, strangers, walls, benches and cameras can tell you things nobody does. And in a very strange way, that encounter was a brisk reminder of how comfortable I am with being alone. It had never occurred to me that street photography is actually something that is so outstanding and noticeable. It really is not all that lonely, I was surrounded by people and cameras often make people look like they are actually doing something that doesn’t require others. After all, I arrived an hour earlier on purpose so I could do that. It was comforting.
I don’t want to put a value judgement on the comfort of being alone, as it has both advantages and concerns in the long run, but there is something to be said about being in a society where being alone is a stigma. I kinda regret that the conversation was cut too short because for me, it was so memorable that I am actually writing about it but also it would not have occurred have I not been alone. I wanted to know what bothered Maggie, the stranger, about standing out in the crowd. I mean in a strange way, we all want to stand out but often by doing what everybody else does.
Yet, for some reason, society programs us to standout and be singled out when alone. Learning how to be alone and enjoying it is an extremely undervalued skill. It can be uncomfortable, and might get boring and potentially lonely at times, but I’ve had some of the most amazing travel time, encounters, conversations and thoughts while alone.
Without trying to put a value judgement, I think everyone has a benefit of learning to be alone. Watch this video, it might help.
PS: I am really curious to hear your opinion on this topic!