Mary Beth Meehan

Anonymous – Providence, RI

Anonymous – Providence, RI

The man is handsome, with wide-set dark eyes and a soft beard. The sun has just set, so the glow in the sky reflects off his skin, his clean-shaven head, his broad brow. A tattoo of a spider web spreads across one forearm and disappears under his sleeve. His elbows are bent and his hands are clasped gently over his right shoulder, his thumbs holding a plastic bag that hangs down his back. The fingers on his right hand are curved over the knuckles of his left.

Edward, my 8-year-old son, is with me. I’d been invited to photograph a bocce tournament here, in the North End of the city, which was once a thriving Italian-American enclave. Edward wanted to come. While we wait for it to begin, we walk Charles Street.

This man walks toward us, carrying his grocery bag over his shoulder. I’m struck by his face, his crooked front tooth, the glint of a diamond earring in his ear. He stops when he sees us, and we begin to chat. I think he’s a little bit charmed by Edward, asks him his name, slaps him five.

I tell him I’m making portraits in the neighborhood and ask if I could make his. He says No, and then Yes, and I make three frames. I give him my card. He starts to walk away but then turns back and asks if he could see the results on the back of my camera. I show him and he says No, please, he doesn’t want to be in a photograph – doesn’t want to be part of any project.

No other picture I make that evening is as good. Edward agrees.