The building had a distinctly shuttered look. There was cardboard on the window, a fringe of rust on the gate and, to my photographer’s eye, just the right amount of trash intermingled with cigarette butts on the pavement out front. I had found exactly what I was looking for.
I’d spent the afternoon hunting through some of Edmonton’s downtown boroughs, searching for the perfect location for the photo series I was working on: Trials of the Budding Novelist. The series pointed the lens at a number of tropes surrounding the writer’s life, attempting to clarify them through irony, and this next photo would involve a portrait of myself as a homeless writer.
I opened up the trunk of my car and began dragging out the set pieces: An old typewriter on a cherry wood table; a stack of paperbacks; a coffee mug; a sleeping bag; and, of course, a cardboard sign that read, “Spare some food??? Writing a novel! Have not eaten in 8 months.”
As I removed my camera bag, however, I found myself glancing around, suddenly aware of being alone in area of questionable safety with a backpack full of expensive photo equipment. I warily set up the tripod and took a couple of practice shots to get my exposure right. Next, I put on my bathrobe and slippers, and set the timer on the camera, trying with all my might not to meet the curious glances of passersby. This was harder than expected. I could sense pedestrians taking in the sleeping bag and the typewriter, myself in ridiculous garb, and trying to work it all out in their heads. What were they really thinking? Was I guilty of some cultural offence? Or was I simply a fool?
With these questions racing through my mind, I took my seat behind the typewriter with the cardboard sign at my side. I pressed the remote shutter, and sat there waiting for it to click. And then the most amazing thing happened.
Someone actually brought me food.
Someone actually parked her scooter beside the curb, took off her helmet and approached me with food in hand. Whether this person saw the humour in it all, or was genuinely concerned for my wellbeing, I can’t say. I only know it made my day. And as my mysterious benefactor got back on her scooter and drove away, all I could think was, “How cool is that?”
You have to love Edmonton.
Edmonton-based author and photographer Tyler Enfield’s latest novel, Madder Carmine, was released in October 2015. See his work at tylerenfield.com.