'I Am Your Mirror'
I met John, the Ex-Prisoner
John, is the forth stranger than I met in London.
I call him the Ex-Prisoner.
He answered to my advert online and agreed to be part of my project. He spent four years in prison.
I put an advert on gumtree.com, in the section ‘ communities’.
I was receiving a good response, when, after 10 days, the gumtree team banned me, I was looking for people with obsession, fears and sickness.
They saw something strange in my headline, I don't know why they banned me.
I had to stop to use gumtree, it was a shame.
John, the Ex-Prisoner, 'I am your mirror photography project' © Loredana Denicola 2013/2014
My first idea was to photograph myself and twelve strangers that I would find through the Internet.
These strangers, would be free to choose a time and place to be photographed. They could express themselves as they wished, and could be anonymous, or not. I asked the strangers to look at the camera as if a mirror.
John sent me an email, saying that he likes the idea and wanted to meet me somewhere, close where I live. He told me to meet him in Finsbury Park.
He texted me on Friday, half an hour before 2 pm.
That day, he was coming to London.
He would have picked me up, with his van, from Finsbury Park.
He gave me the address and a place.
I told him that all was perfect and that I would wear black colours and that I had long dark hair.
He didn’t know me, who I am.
I went to Finsbury park and waited for him.
I saw a van approaching, he was him.
When he saw me, waiting for him, in that weird corner behind the bus station, he opened the door of his van, asking me to jump in, without stopping, and that is what I did, without any thinking.
I jumped in the van.
Sat on the seat.
Put the seat belt on.
At the beginning, I felt not very comfortable, there was no one word coming up from my mouth and there was me and him, in a van, going somewhere.
It was strange meeting a stranger like this, but despite all the crazy feelings inside me, we introduced ourselves.
Hello I am Lore! - I said
Hi, I am John - he said
Nothing else for few minutes.
I don't normally act in this way.
I am , often, more talkative.
I take control of the situation, but that day I was feeling less in control and I let things running naturally.
He had a serious face, bold, with no hair.
He looked tall and big, middle age, more than 50 years old.
The van was messy and dirty, probably he uses it for work, that was my impression.
He looked scary but he smiled at me.
After few minutes, he asked me if I wanted to drink something, he bought some cans of beers. He had them in a plastic bag, underneath the seat.
I said 'Yes, why not? I like beers'.
I took one, opened it and drank it.
J.'You have a friendly and pretty face, a simple one. Where do you come from?' he said.
L.'I am from Italy', I answered.
J.'Also you look open minded, no many people jump in my van as you did without knowing me'.
L.'I know. I am a special one'. I said, smiling.
The ice was broken.
He began to talk about his family.
He lives with a woman who has a child from another man.
He is not happy with her because they are continuously arguing.
He complained a lot, he has enough and can't stand the situation anymore, trying desperately to solve all these problems but without success.
He met her when gets out of jail and he fell in love with her.
He told me that he has been in prison for four years for robbery and that experience in prison, was the best thing that could ever happen to him, because he changed completely, and wanted to live a more happy life.
We decided to take some pictures of him where the prison was.
That was his suggestion.
I was a bit puzzled, how could we access to the prison?
We reached the prison, North London. He parked the van.
John, the Ex-Prisoner, 'I am your mirror photography project' © Loredana Denicola 2013/2014
I rushed, took my camera out and took a few shots of him using the prison as background but we were immediately stopped by the security men, we needed to have permission.
The security men approached me, obviously I was that one with the camera, telling me to leave.
Knowing myself, I insisted.
I, even showed my press card, saying that I was doing a photo - journalistic project, about prisons in London, trying to convince them.
They said that it wasn’t enough, I had to ask permission to the prison and wait for their answer.
We ended up to leave the prison.
John told me to move on the back of the prison.
We could get some shots there.
On the back, there was a long and big wall and a park.
He said - You know? It takes courage, it takes time, it takes hard work but it is possible to build yourself as you like, again and again'
It took me all my life.
'How was your experience in prison?' I asked.
'Shit! 'He replied.
'When you are in prison the time stops.
Food is bad and you don't have sex.
The first thing I thought when I gets out of jail was I want to make love and have some tasty food'.
I have never thought that this is what a "free" man thinks when gets out of jail. Have the desire for simple things.
'What is a prison?' - I asked. 'Is the so called reality/society in which we live a prison?'
'Of course it is', he said to me.
'Be really you in today Society it is not easy. We must have the courage to not conform to rules, to questioning everything, to defend our ideals and values and dreams without fear of being put aside, without fears of being and left alone.
We have to develop a love relationship with ourselves and start to enjoy our own company, it is the only way to appreciate ourselves and consequently our surrounding.
At least, we are living our life, nobody else is living our life.
It is very very precious. Don’t forget this Lore!'
He called me Lore, like he was an old friend.
'I see you a quite authentic person', he said - 'I would like to bring you out for dinner one of these evenings'.
I didn't know what to answer, I didn't actually wanted to go out for dinner with him.
Working on photography projects I developed a sort of ethic, never mixed private life and professional life while you are on a project.
I learned this from my past mistakes. I found myself in very awkward and embarrassing situations.
While he was talking, I saw some white flowers all around the back of the prison, and I thought that it would have been nice to take some pictures of him surrounded by white flowers.
I imagined a free world around him.
He was wearing a light blue jumper with some dark trousers.
But my film was in black and white.
It was perfect.
After few shots, he said that he had to go back home.
He was working as bartender in a bar, that evening.
I suggested another day, I wasn't quite happy about the photographs I did, and wanted to take some more.
He said yes and to not worry about.
He gave me a lift back to Finsbury Park, but before leaving me, he asked me a favour.
We stopped at a flower's shop, near the Underground Station.
He wanted to buy some flowers for his girlfriend, and asked me to choose some for her.
I told him that I don't like flowers like present, because they are dead already when they are cut from the ground, so I advice him to buy something alive, an orchid.
There were many there with different colours.
'Choose one' he said, like a command.
I did. I took the most beautiful one.
Outside the shop, 'That is yours!' ,he said. 'Thank you for the beautiful time together today! I loved it!'
I said, that he was not necessary to give me flowers, but I thanked him, took the orchid with me, find my bus stop, took my bus and went home.
After few days, he texted me more often, telling me about the bad vibes he was experiencing at home with his girlfriend.
He was complaining more, feeling unhappy and becoming heavy.
I was listening to his stories but I couldn't help him.
I was only interested in meeting him and create with him. I kept texting him trying to find a time and place where to meet again.
I proposed Hide Park, which was good for him and for me.
Then, he began to text me in the evening and talk about sex, he wanted to have sex with me, I didn't know what to say or how to react.
I was trying to avoid those texts, he knew that, but I was still keeping asking him to meet me somewhere because I wanted to finish with his pictures.
One day, he gave an appointment at 3 pm at Hide Park, the day of his birthday.
He said that he was off from work and he wanted bring me out for dinner the same day, after our photography session.
I said that I was busy in the evening, which it wasn't true.
He said that I could do all another evening and that he was happy to pass his birthday with me because he argued with his girlfriend and didn't want to comeback home.
I said that I was interested only in the pictures and not wanted to go for dinner, but I would have been happy to have a coffee with him, afterwards.
We arranged to meet that day after at 3pm at Hide Park Corner. It was Wednesday.
That day, I arrived 10 minutes earlier.
I waited for ten minutes, he was late.
I waited for half an hour and he was not there yet.
I thought he had some problems with parking.
I texted him, but he didn't replay.
I called him, but he didn't answer.
I waited more but he never came.
And I never meet him again or talked with him again.
The story ends here after two months of connection through emails, texts, phone calls. Met him only once.
Every day we are forced to wear masks, yes we do everyday and we do unconsciously.
We have one mask for the family, one mask for work, relationships, one mask for friends ( maybe no all of them), because let's admit it, we believe and feel alive only when others like us.
We live constantly to please others, we sacrifice ourselves to please others, we live a life that is a lie. And then some of us die unhappy .
Time ago I thought that I would never compromised with myself to be integrated into this reality ‘.
But I had compromised with myself because I wanted to be part of something or being with someone and I was suffering of dependency but then I collapsed.
I worked hard to re-build myself and learn to go forward.
Life goes on, always, not matter where you are at. I tried to be myself, at least with the people I cared more.
'Now I am sorry.
I love myself now.
I am who I am and it is so beautiful.
I feel happy.
I am following my heart'.
John, I wish you all the best in Life.
Thank you for being part of my project and for the valuable advice you gave to me.
You look well with the white flowers behind you.
Do you wear a mask?
Written by Loredana Denicola, 'How I met my strangers, I am your Mirror' photography project .
©Loredana Denicola 2013/2014