Ivan Velinov is a photographer who engages people – strangers – around Boston in conversation and takes pictures of them. His project, Portraits of Boston, sounds simple enough, but the results over the past year and a half have been astounding.His portraits, in their characteristically uncanny way, capture the essence of their subjects perfectly. The stories he hears from these strangers are often candid and revealing. They discuss everything from philosophies of life, to jobs, to the mundane banalities of everyday living. Through image and text he creates a captivating snapshot of someone’s life.
Portraits of Boston is a reminder that everyone has a unique story to tell, and – more importantly – that these stories should be heard and felt. Listening to people’s stories is the first step towards empathy and understanding – two things society is sorely in need of.
Technology and the internet, though they have certainly connected the world in an unprecedented manner, have cloistered us into cyber-space niches, and too often leave us physically isolated and attached to our devices.
On Tuesday, Velinov revealed in a statement on Facebook that although he has worked full-time on the project for 18 months, he hasn’t made a penny and is completely out of money. But he isn’t giving up. In his own words:
“Whenever I am tempted to give up on this project I […] remind myself that you just never know what amazing people you might meet the next time you wander the streets. I know that people often ask those who take street portraits ‘How do you do it? How can you just walk up to a stranger and ask them for a picture?’ […] I wonder ‘How can you NOT?”
He has decided take the project on the road (via FB):
“Over the last year and a half I couldn’t help but think how much better this blog would’ve been if I lived closer to Boston. If I didn’t have to spend 4-5 hours a day commuting, I could meet more people, visit more neighborhoods, and have more time to moderate the page, among other things. But wishing things were different only frustrates you and drains your energy—the reality is that for the foreseeable future I will be lucky simply to have a roof over my head anywhere. After nearly 18 months of working full-time on the blog, I haven’t made a penny. All my savings are gone, my credits cards are maxed out and almost every possible loan is exhausted. If someone else hadn’t been paying my rent, I would’ve been homeless for the last year.
The long daily commute only feels like an obstacle, knowing that no matter how hard I work, the blog will never be as good as it could be, as good as you deserve it to be. It simply doesn’t make sense to continue the same way. I will always have to spend a lot of time on the road, and although that’s tiring, it can also be exciting…if you’re going someplace new. So, starting this week I will fully embrace traveling and the blog will change: I will now be traveling all the time to different places. I’m not sure how I’ll do it without any money, but I believe that doors will open.
There are other reasons for this change. I think that people everywhere are awesome, and the more we expose ourselves to diverse places and people, the more we can learn. Also, I’ve always felt that a project like this is most authentic when the encounters are most unexpected and unpredictable. Lastly, ever since I was a little kid, I’ve dreamed of wandering around and talking to people in faraway lands. At first it was my way of staying sane: I never had a family to talk to, or a place that felt like home. Instead I had to mentally transport myself, imagining I was someplace else, someplace better. It became such a strong part of me that, even all these years later, my only home is wherever I sit to have a nice conversation with someone.
I believe most of you follow this blog not for its name or location, but for the stories we all relate to. I hope all of you will stay with me on this journey—I need you more than ever now.”
As of today, the website is down, but he is still posting portraits on the Facebook page. Hopefully a crowdfunding campaign can help keep this amazing project going.