Complete Strangers


Asking complete strangers to do things for you is an interesting and fascinating activity. They don’t know what to expect of you, and you don’t know what to expect from them. However, if you go about asking them questions in the right way, you can get them to follow along with a line of questions, requests, or even turn them into a new friend. For this assignment, Meredith, Steven and I asked strangers to do a series of things for us. First, we asked them if they would take a picture of one of us. If they complied, then we would ask them if they would like to have their picture taken. If they agreed to that, we would then ask for their email to send them their photo. Finally, if the stranger was comfortable enough, we would ask to walk and talk with them some more.

My first round of strangers came in the form of two young women from Europe. I approached them from the arch at Washington Square Park and smiled and asked if they would take my photo next to George Washington. One of them smiled back and agreed. The other smiled and played with their map of the city. I moved into position by the arch, and flashed a bright smile. I had given the girl Meredith’s iphone to use to take my photo, and she snapped a great photo of me an returned the camera. When I walked back to the girl, I asked if she would like her picture taken with her friend by the arch. They both were delighted to pose for me, and handed me their own camera to take the photo. I returned their earlier favor and took a couple photos for them. I didn’t see the sense in emailing them, since their photos were taken on their own camera, so I continued on and waved goodbye to them.

The second round was interesting because I approached a couple that was lost in their own world as they passed the arch. I asked them if they would take my photo, and the girl happily agreed. She knew what to do with the iphone and snapped a quick shot of me. When asked if she wanted a photo of them together, she looked back at the boy, made a face, and respectfully declined. Maybe they weren’t that into each other yet?

Round three was probably the most interesting interaction, not because they followed along any more than the others, but because of the amount of people involved. I had spotted a family of five crossing the street towards the arch with lots of luggage, and stopped the father and mother and asked if they would take my photo in front of the arch. He sounded a bit uncomfortable, and said something quickly and moved along. However, his wife smiled at me and agreed to take my photo. She was unsure of how to use the iphone’s camera, but figured it out and got a good shot of me. Her kids watched her intently and plopped don their suitcases to help her aim the camera. It was very cute. The father must have been in a rush because he had walked some yards away. When asked if they’d like a family photo, the woman said they were exhausted from their trip, and that they just needed to get home. I completely understood!

My fourth interaction was quite brief. I approached a group of four girls, and asked one of them if she would take my photo in front of the arch. She smiled at me warmly and said, “ok, cool!” I was happy she agreed to take the photo. She waited for me to pose in front of the camera, and even offered to take a few more. I was happy about that. I asked if she wanted some photos with her friends there, and she said she lived right on the park, so she already had plenty. I thought that was amusing. Her friends made silly poses by the arch anyways and took their own photos.

Lastly, I approached an older woman standing in front of the archway. She looked as if she was waiting for someone. I asked her to take my photo, and held out the iphone. She said if I taught her how to do it, she would gladly take my photo. I gave her a brief demonstration, and she said she was ready. I ran into position, and she had some trouble getting the camera to function properly, and aimed wildly. She took off her gloves to get serious, and then she snapped a shot of me. She was very pleased with herself. She didn’t want a photo of herself by the arch since she said she was a native and had been in many by the arch over the years. I wondered what the park looked like way back when, when she told me that. I thanked her and moved along. While waiting on Steven to complete his interactions, I noticed that the woman had joined a group of people in holding up a Quakers for Peace sign up at the base of the arch. I had to get the shot! I moved in and got a few great shots of the group, and I was pleased to see the same woman smiling back at me. One of the people on the end of the sign being held up gave me a pamphlet saying it was a silent demonstration. I figured I better not ask them for anything then and ruin their concentration.

Steven’s first interaction was very abrupt. They seemed to cut him off very quickly. I didn’t even have time to play like I was wandering around and take a good photo of them. I thought they were kind of rude. His second approach seemed to go better, but he probably appeared to most like he was from here, so they were taken by surprise when he asked them for photos. I got caught up in taking photos of strangers when he was doing his third interaction, so I did not catch the action there. The Asian couple in his fourth interaction seemed to like having their picture taken, which was interesting since many seemed not to be interested in that. I know if I was in a couple, I’d want photos all the time. I was completely distracted by an odd man and his bizarre hair cut when Steven was finishing his last interaction. I stopped everything I was doing to catch a shot of the man’s hair. It was absurd! However, Steven got better at asking people for photos as he went on, and his photos they took turned out great! He was very good at standing back and making his own observations, and sometimes Meredith and I lost him when he was watching us!

Hands down, Meredith’s first interaction was the most successful out of all of ours. She cooly approached a group of people walking down Waverly towards Broadway and asked them to take her photo. They were delighted, and also thrilled to have her take their photo and email it to them. It was very cool! Meredith connected with a woman by the church close to the Kimmel center and also went through all the iterative actions with ease. She stopped to talk with the woman about her philosophy of dog ownership in New York. Apparently, it is a completely different world to have a dog and live in the city because people interact with you quite differently. While that went on, a strange Italian man tried to ask me for a smoke. Blah. Meredith comes across as very approachable to strangers, so it was simple for her to ask them to take photos and pose in them. Almost all of her subjects complied with at least taking her photo and having their own taken. Sadly, the first group’s email bounced back, so they didn’t receive their photos. Her other interactions were successful, but it seemed that the first and third were the strongest. We can probably ascertain that people with dogs, couples, and large groups are more apt to comply with our set of requests than people flying solo.

I was not as successful as Meredith in running the whole gamut of the iterative interactions with my strangers, but all of them did at least take a photo of me, and I was glad at least some wanted their photos taken. I wanted to take photos with my own camera of the strangers, but that probably would have blown my cover. Either way, the experiment was fun, even if it was snowing outside.

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