Tom Souzer is a self-taught photographer based out of Pittsburgh, PA. He uses his camera as way to interact and show emotion through street and portrait based photography. Shooting with a Fuji X100 while wandering the streets he hopes to catch faces and expressions that will stick with you. Tom’s current project is “nearsighted” which will be released in a zine/book format in early summer 2016. The series focuses on portrait based photos of strangers in downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His work is in your face, slightly gritty, and thought provoking.
JK: You’re a street photographer, and you have an Instagram called Constant Companion, where you mostly depict people and the architecture within the city. Can you tell us what exactly street photography means, and what you like about photographing city life?
TS: Ok what it means to me?
JK: Yes, I feel like some people might not know what street photography is. It’s not a common term that gets thrown around.
TS: Well I guess for me it’s going out and taking pictures of people that I find interesting, and things that I find interesting. Some people I ask for their picture, and other people I don’t. Some of the pure street photographers are really against asking someone for their photo because it changes they way they look in the photo, like obviously they are going to pose. They’re going to put on their selfie face or whatever. I think it’s just really neat because you get to hang out with different people and be around different people and meet new people.
JK: I’ve also heard that some street photographers don’t like to ask for permission because you are in a public space and you take into account when you walk outside your door that your image is in the public so what’s the difference between a picture being taken of you and someone just seeing you outside? I don’t know if that’s something that you think about.
TS: I’ve never really thought about that. It’s interesting. I don’t know if I want to say I’m studying people, but I am really interested in people’s facial expressions and what they are wearing. I kind of feel like if you get that photograph of their expression it can tell a story. I don’t put a lot of words with my photos. I like people to look at the person and be able to make up a story of what’s going on in their life…
JK: Talking about Constant Companion, a majority of those images are portraits of people, and you consider yourself to be a storyteller. I guess I am wondering, what kind of stories attract you? And how you go about pursuing somebody that you want to photograph?
TS: I guess the stories that attract me are the more depressing stories. I feel like I am attracted to people that a lot of people walking around downtown wouldn’t talk to. They interest me, but I haven’t really figured out why yet. I’m still working on that. It’s opened my eyes a lot, seeing what other people go through.
JK: A lot of the people that you pick out of the crowd, I’ve observed that they are older… It seems like you like to tell the story of the person who is excluded from the main stream. Is that fair to say?
TS: Yes. I think that is fair to say. I guess I’m attracted to older people and weathered people because they look like they have a story to tell. They have a beard, or their face is wrinkly. I just imagine what they’ve done or who they used to be. There are homeless people downtown that used to live in a big house and have a ton of money, and now they have to live on the streets, which is crazy to me.
JK: So you want to tell their stories without words, just through their image?
TS: Yes. And I think their stories need to be heard, like everyone’s story needs to be heard.
JK: Do you have a favorite story or image that you’ve taken? Or one that has really impacted you?
TS: Yes, there is a guy on my Instagram; he has a red facemask on. I shot his portrait, and I just thought he was a regular guy walking down the street. And I asked him if I could take his picture. He said “Yeah sure, no problem”, so I took his picture. And it was a really cold day. And he asked me, “What are you taking pictures for?” I told him what I was doing and what I had plans to do, and I asked him, “Well what are you up to today” just striking up conversation. And he told me, “I’m homeless… I was really into school, I went to college.” He got into really hard drugs and his family disowned him, and he’s trying to get his life back on track but no one will give him a job because of his prior record. That just sucks. I feel like everyone deserves a second chance. Everybody screws up. That one has really stuck with me.
JK: Do you think there is any element of hope or redemption in your work?
TS: Yes. Some of the people I take pictures of, they look so angry and they end up smiling. That’s cool to me.
JK: To see that transformation?
TS: Yes, and like I said before, I don’t want them to change the look on their face, but it’s cool that a camera and asking someone for their picture can make them smile…People don’t expect to get their picture taken.
Listen to the whole interview below!