Photographer finds inspiration in 'Talking with Strangers' around Charleston

Photographer Austin Rich has been taking pictures of strangers and telling their stories every day for the last year, as part of his project "Talking With Strangers."

Every day Austin Rich goes out into the streets with his camera in search of one person.

The 23-year-old wanders through downtown Charleston, observing the city's eclectic mix of residents and visitors, waiting for inspiration.

He doesn't always know what he's looking for but he knows when he finds it.

“When I'm on the search I don't stop until I find the one for the day,” he said.

Some days he'll talk to as many as 15 people and on other days he'll find his person on the first try.

Sometimes they talk for a few minutes, other times for more than an hour.

By the end of the day that person's photograph and short story, usually a unique glimpse of life in Charleston or life in general, becomes another chapter in Rich's photo project, Talking With Strangers, which he chronicles on his website and Facebook page.

 

He started the project in his hometown of Asheboro, N.C. last February as '365 Days of Talking With Strangers' but the project has been so inspiring to Rich and its fans that not only has he not skipped a single day but he now plans to call it '1,000 Days of Talking With Strangers.' When it's over he wants to publish a book.

“I'm very proud of the fact that I've never missed a day. I've never missed a single day,” Rich said. “I've had days where I just felt terrible - a really bad day, everyone has them.”

But he'd go out anyway and a curious thing would happen. He would feel better.

“I always found a story that spoke to me that day. No matter how bad things going for me that day, knowing what I had done not only made someone else feel better but made myself feel better.”

 

Influenced by his father, Rich started shooting when he was 9. He's met with and learned from a lot of photographers along the way but it was an online interview with Brandon Stanton, the photographer behind the immensely popular Humans of New York that he knew what he wanted to do.

 

“I saw a resemblance of how I felt about photographing people. It didn't work without talking to people,” Rich said. “He showed me that not only would it be OK to photograph people and share their stories but that I could create my own project.”

 

Rich watched the interview and started his own project the same day.

Even though he's a photographer, Rich knows it's his subject's story that is truly captivating.

“It's more important to me to have a good story,” he said. I feel like photographing is really easy for me since I've been doing it for a long time but it's the stories that are the hard part. At the end of the day I feel the stories matter the most.”