Something truly exceptional can sprout from a single “Hi. How are you?” as Mikael Theimer discovered. In an ongoing project, Mikael talks to people on the streets, takes his time to learn about their history and geography, gets to know people a little closer to tell their unique stories.
In this emotional ride, Mikael has produced a project worth reflecting on. Homeless people have a voice, they’re beautiful as are all human beings and they all have a story worth being told. Here is the story of Mikael’s project – a simple idea that has made waves.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your professional background.
I grew up in Paris (France) and moved to Montreal when I was 20. I studied marketing there, then worked for an ad agency for a few years. I grew tired of my 9 to 5 and the shallowness of the job I was doing, so I quit, in search of something more meaningful to do with my life. That’s when I got myself a camera. What started out as a hobby, a side project, became my new calling.
When did you know you wanted to be a photographer and what has your journey been like?
I didn’t know I wanted to be a photographer until I became one. The first thing I did after quitting my job, was to start the Montreal version of the Humans of New York blog (it’s called Portraits of Montreal). I thought every city should have its own “humans of” project, and since no one was doing in Montreal, why not me?
It didn’t take long before we had 20K likes on Facebook, were featured on a few newspapers, and got invited on various TV shows.
So we continued, and I invested 100% of my energy into photography because it was making me happier than anything else I’d done before. It’s not so much the photography, it’s the things I’m photographing, the people my camera allows me to meet, the places it takes me, the situations it puts me in, the stories it uncovers. It connects with the world and its inhabitants.
Is there something you always ask yourself/think just before you push the button?
Nope. I’m more of a “shoot first, think later” kinda guy.
What initially inspired your project with the homeless people?
A genuine interest in getting to know these people, and in understanding their reality.
Raising social awareness is unmistakably important. What else do you hope to achieve with this project?
I hope to change the way people interact with the homeless. I hope to make them see the human beings before they see the “social issues”. I hope people exposed to my pictures and the stories that come with them will take the time to look in the eyes of the next homeless person they run into, to say “hi, how are you doing?”, or simply to offer them a smile even if they don’t want to give them any change.
What is the most memorable story anyone has shared with you from this project?
The story of a man who spent quite some time in jail after killing the man who had raped his baby boy. I won’t go into the details because they are pretty gruesome, but it was a tough story to hear.
What have you learned throughout the duration of your experience as a photographer?
I learned how to be a better human being, a kinder person. I learned about realities that have absolutely nothing in common with mine, and in doing so, I became more empathetic.
Why is black and white a preferable style for you?
I find color to be a distraction.
A colored picture is like a painting, it’s an image, something beautiful (hopefully) to look at.
A black and white picture is a moment frozen in time, it’s not so much about the image, but about the things happening, the humans in it, and how they feel.
Do you have any early-stage projects right now? What can we expect from your portfolio in the near future?
I’m working on a journalistic piece about raising a child with Down Syndrome; I’m about to start a series of portraits of people living with intellectual deficiencies, focusing on the autonomy they have; I’m preparing a studio shoot in a homeless shelter; I’m also putting together a photo book about life in Montreal.
Do you have any tips for an aspiring photographer who’s picking up a camera for the first time?
Pick it up every day. Take it with you wherever you go. Shoot. Shoot again. And then shoot some more. Think of something you want to see in this world, something you want to understand or learn about, and figure out a way to go photograph it. Reach out to people. Reach out to charities. Find a project you’re willing to do for free and do it. Plant seeds, lots of seeds, and pick up the opportunities that grow out of them when they do.
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