About a year and a half ago, I was in Chattanooga, TN for a few hours with my wife and in-laws taking in some of the beautiful sights in the city. As we were walking past the Chattanooga Aquarium, I saw this very cool looking man on the sidewalk playing an old guitar. There were quite a few homeless men making loud noises with various instruments, but this particular man caught my attention and was actually quite good at playing.
As always, I had my camera with me for some street photography, so I snapped a quick shot of him and didn’t think much of it….until later that is. When I got home from the trip and started post processing all of the photos, I could NOT stop staring at the photo I took of that one man playing guitar. There was such a story hiding behind his eyes, and the way he was looking at the camera really pulled me in.
After falling in love with this photo and realizing how oddly photogenic this random man was, I couldn’t wait to publish this piece to see if all of my viewers felt the same way. Well, I can tell you after gathering all of the data from the various websites and galleries I featured this photo on, it received over FOURTY THOUSAND views in such a crazy short amount of time. As you can imagine, the hype around this photo blew my mind and took me by complete surprise.
Shortly after I learned about all the attention this photo was getting, I told myself that I HAD to go back to Chattanooga in order to introduce myself to the man and give him a print of the photo. Call me weird, but this piece just didn’t feel “complete” until I personally delivered a print to this man that had brought so much attention and joy to my website.
I specifically planned to spend my birthday in Chattanooga a few months later. I made a beautiful print and kept wondering what I was going to say to the man when I approached him. Well, we drove to the street where I saw him months before and walked around the whole town looking for him, but we just couldn’t find him. I didn’t tell my wife and family, but I was SO disappointed and wondering if I would ever get “closure” on this project. I know it sounds weird, but I couldn’t stand the fact that this image had brought so many new viewers to my website, and the star of the show(guitar guy)had absolutely no clue. I saw a Chattanooga Aquarium employee walking toward me not far from where I took the photo, so I asked him if he was familiar with the man in the print that I was holding. The aquarium employee knew exactly who I was talking about and said, “I’m not sure where he is today. I haven’t seen him for a few days actually, but he is an icon here in Chattanooga. Everyone knows who he is.” Now I was even more intrigued with this guy being that he is homeless, plays guitar on the sidewalk, and the aquarium employee just described him as an icon? It slowly started to make sense because he is the only homeless man I have ever seen that had such a positive, inspiring, and happy spirit about him. Those are probably the reasons I felt compelled to photograph him so many months ago. I had an awesome birthday in Chattanooga, but I was never able to find the man and give him the print…
Nineteen days later, I got the chance to go to Chattanooga again for a quick trip. The second we got to the end of Broad street in downtown…..there he was playing his guitar with a big smile on his face. I couldn’t even explain the excitement that jolted through me. As I was approaching him to give him the print, I noticed he was saying “happy summer time” to every single person that walked by. I walked up, introduced myself as a photographer from Atlanta, and I showed him the print. His facial expression said it all when I revealed the print to him, and he didn’t even know it was for him to keep. Ha! He even looked at me and said, “for me??” It was a very short and simple moment we had together, but I could tell he loved the print. I finally felt accomplished with this image and walked away with a peaceful relief. He even let me take another portrait of him, but this time he gave me a great big smile since he knew I was shooting him. What a cool guy…
Thank you all so much for taking the time to read this story, and I hope you enjoy looking at both of the images I took below.
PHOTO #1 “Homeless Musician”
PHOTO #2 “Reunited And It Feels So Good”