Text and photos by Gonzalo Bénard1.
When I first started creating this project in my mind I had no idea how interesting it would be, and especially how much I could learn from it – in so many ways. What I learned about people, about human feelings, the subjects’ reactions, how they face emotions, how they (we) grow up building our own rituals to survive emotions, or how psychological or sociological this became. Also, bringing a new meaning to what is it to be a photographer.
A camera has always been a tool of voyeurism; I’d not realised that before. Till I started the B Shot by a Stranger project… and stretched the boundaries. Street photography can be as voyeuristic as shooting a model posing. A war or disaster photographer catching moments of pain and distress uses the camera as voyeuristic tool too. But none of this can go as far as watching someone in their vulnerable, intimate, nude, private, lonely moments.
Most of the volunteers are young people with a social life, people with life, regular people with emotions and feelings even if they have masks to hide their emotions and feelings towards society (don’t we all?). However, when they go back home, alone, they feel their own loneliness, some emptiness, some “facing ourselves feeling”. University students or workers, most of them are experiencing their first years of life living alone or sharing flats far from their families. Experiencing their first more serious break downs. They’re young and experiencing the first steps of adulthood. How to deal with new emotions, how to face them. Building defenses and rituals to help them fight and grow up.
B Shot by a Stranger had volunteers worldwide. These people are from different cultures, different faiths and different corners of the earth, all of them experiencing lonely moments. The same feelings and emotions. Aren’t we all humans? How we react to them can be different from each other, but can also be similar no matter where you’re from. It’s curious to see, for example, the ritual of a bath using the water as cleanser, or as protection. Water is used by all religions to give the protection of the Gods, to purify our spirits. But a bath can also feel like going back in time to the most protective moment for a human: the mother’s womb. And there you’re “allowed” to cry or just let some tears out . . . because those tears will merge with that water which purifies the spirit. Also you don’t even have to see that you’re crying because you’re already wet by the bath.
Some people decide to face themselves, they do look straight and naked into the mirror when lonely. In moments. When they are not in a dark corner of the room with the face covered or hugged by their arms. Or just lie down naked, face down into the pillow breathing in their own existence.
But sometimes we are so drowned in our own sorrows, our own loneliness that we forget an infinite world of things we love to do, things that makes us happy and which do not require anyone else. Things we do when we’re alone because we’re in the mood for that. The so called hobbies for example, like playing an instrument, drawing, writing, dancing, singing, cooking . . . and sometimes we just need a “click” to find that out. And immediately we leave the self-sorrow, the sadness and move on to some moments of joy, to some moments with ourselves, to the pleasure and the happiness of being alone: a wonderful way of “being” alone not “feeling” lonely.
So we dance. We sing. We draw. We cook. We enjoy our own self. Being alone and lonely.
And suddenly moving from the moment that we’re face down covering our sadness, we jump up and say: “Do you want to see the drawing I did the other day?” Or we just jump up and put some music on and start dancing. You realise that you can take out some pleasure from within you. And you gain new life. You found joy in the way you created a ritual, a way round to fulfill your loneliness. You’re dancing now. And you don’t even need to “drink to forget”.
I didn’t know what loneliness meant before I started this project and I was quite curious to understand the feeling of it. Since I was a kid I have always created things to do, I always filled my spare time drawing, writing, painting, doing photography, or just walking observing nature, human nature. I’ve been always an observer and a creator. I spent almost my entire life alone, but never lonely.
Loners are loners because they allow themselves to be loners. Sometimes they seek the attention of others not realising that they’re just seeking their own attention. Having someone else – especially a stranger who will not judge you, who will respect you, with whom you don’t have any special emotional ties – can be distracting, but can also be a sweet and comfortable way for you to face yourself instead of the cruelty of facing the mirror. You share with the stranger waiting for him to tell you what you need – or want – to hear from your own self. And then you have two possible answers if they cross the boundaries: leave fulfilled or leave running away (from yourself).
As this project, “B Shot by a Stranger”, was undertaken without an imposed physical presence or even an energetic interference, it left much more space for you to keep feeling your own loneliness. The volunteers were not acting, they were going through it for real. They were alone and lonely. I was on this side, shooting (and sometimes listening to them) as a stranger, from the other side of the world, using an Internet satellite. They just had to leave the laptop and webcam open, “taking me” with them to their physical places: bedroom, living room, bath, kitchen, garden . . . So I could be there with them . . . not being. They could trust in this stranger as they knew they could just turn off if they didn’t feel safe. At certain points the Internet can be unreal, can belong to a dream’s box. You can enjoy the dream, you can release your subconscious mind and you can just wake up from it whenever you want. You can show who you are. Or not. You can be listened to by a world. You can be seen. You can exhibit yourself. You can share. With or without your own identity.
And me? I was just playing the listener role, the watcher, observer, the stranger in their life. The friend they needed at that moment, with whom they chose to share their intimate loneliness. For them, I became a friend, an acquaintance or I remained a stranger. Like a life play, a game of feelings, a psychological fulfillment, a sociological observer. A creator of different moments in others’ lives. A learner. A stranger they could trust. Knowing that I could open their eyes as they opened mine. Learning from both sides. From both sides growing up with each other in one more experience of life.
- Gonzalo Bénard is an artist photographer and creator/author of B Shot by a Stranger project [↩]