In December of 2013, I was testing out a new camera at an underpass near my home. The large concrete beams and cross patterned shadows made for curious enough subjects for me to learn my camera. Calling down from above a man asked, “What kind of camera is that?” The question started up a small conversation. A man I later learned to be named Mike told me about his old Pentax 35mm camera. Mike was apparently living under the underpass. He invited me up to talk more. Sensing a more exciting photo opportunity, I obliged.
While climbing the small dirt hill to the embankment beneath the bridge, I saw Mike coming to meet me. Tall, white, and carrying a large smile, he put out his hand and introduced himself. He motioned for me to follow him to his spot, which had a few milk crates for seats. Some crates were occupied by others who populated the underpass. Mike offered me a seat while he took his spot atop a sleeping bag. Mike was by far the most talkative of the group, with the others either rarely contributing or completely distant. I knew at some point, I planned to take a photo, but the moment did not seem right. The sun was starting to set, but I needed to ingratiate myself.
Mike got a glimmer in his eye, and asked “Do you smoke?” He rolled a small joint and then lit it. The mood lightened and the others became more conversational. I sensed that now would be the opportune moment for a photo. I pulled my camera up and isolated Mike, his headlamp still on from rolling the weed. He sat with a small smirk and gazed directly into the lens.
Talking with Mike and the others gave me a door into their community. For the next week I visited and photographed every day.