Thank You Mr Foster - A Bradford Spirit Pt.2
Back in November I posted a short blog about a photo I’d taken on Duckworth Lane which I called ‘A Bradford Spirit.’ It was a particularly miserable day when I took the photo, cold and wet and dark and I’d had a pretty dry run with regards to street photography so when I took my camera out I didn’t have high expectations. I was just treating it as a practice run to ease back in having taken a few months off it to recharge. I’ve photographed Duckworth Lane quite a lot over the years and when an environment becomes too familiar it can lead to the photos becoming quite uninspired, stagnant and lazy so a lot of my most recent pictures on that stretch of road didn’t really amount to much.
Equipped with my 40mm lens I’d taken a couple of photos that day that I suspected might be quite decent but nothing special when all of a sudden an elderly gentleman who I was trying to capture walking down the street saw what I was doing and - rather than regard me with the suspicion I’ve become accustomed to in Bradford - jumped in front of my camera with his arms wide open smiling from ear to ear. It was a fantastically joyous and spontaneous moment and afterwards he walked on and got on with his day, as did I. You can read about it in a bit more detail in my previous blog post:
The resulting photo had a hugely positive effect on people when I posted it online and I immediately wanted to seek out the man in the photo to give him a print and thank him for providing me with such a good picture. He’d have no idea that his little moment had put a smile on so many faces and I really wanted to tell him.
I encouraged people to share the image and the story through social media hoping somebody might recognise him and put us in touch. The public’s reaction to the photo and the blog was overwhelmingly generous and with the amount of times the blog was shared I reached thousands of people. However, despite everybody’s help and best efforts I didn’t find him and I eventually put the idea to the back of my mind.
Then, one day last week, three months and a half after taking the picture I was walking out of the side door of the Duckworth Lane Co-op and who should walk straight past me and into the shop but the man in the photograph. All of that 21st century technology and potentially thousands of people reached and I’d found him by accidentally bumping into him again in the street. Just like the good old days.
One side point I’d like to make is that I almost missed the moment because I had my face in my phone scrolling through Spotify looking for something to listen to but I happened to look up just in time. One or two seconds later and I would’ve missed him and not even known. Put the phone away from time to time folks, you don’t know what you might be missing.
I waited outside the shop for the man so I could catch him on the way out. When he eventually came out holding his paper I approached him and introduced myself. He was a little alarmed at first, as you would be if a loitering stranger approached you out of the blue, but when I asked him if he remembered the incident he said that he did. He even struck his open armed pose again to illustrate it saying “I remember. I did this.” I briefly explained myself and told him how people had reacted to the photo and he was pleasantly surprised. When I showed him the photo on my phone he seemed really happy with it and I explained that I’d been trying to find him to give him a copy.
“Have you got it now?” he said, looking at my rucksack.
I told him I didn’t and before I had the chance to ask he said “So would you like my address then?” I said yes please. I took his address and asked him for his name.
“Mr Foster,” he said. “Mr R Foster.”
“What does the R stand for?”
“Mr Foster, Raymond, thank you. I’ll get the photo to you as soon as I can.”
“Don’t forget will you?”
“I promise I won’t forget.”
I asked him if I could take another picture on my phone and he didn’t hesitate to break out that smile. I thanked him once again and he went home and I went back to work. Looking at the photo later that day I noticed he'd broken his glasses since I took the first photo and the middle was held together with a plaster. Wonder how that happened.
Earlier this week I had the photo printed and when I paid for the print the lady at the counter looked at the photo for moment and smiled before putting it into the packet. Raymond certainly has an effect on people. I got home, framed the photo and signed the mount “Mr Foster. Thank you. John Cade.”
Yesterday I found my way to the address Raymond had given me, found his flat number and called the buzzer. When I said who I was and that I had his picture he buzzed me in and let me into his flat. I don’t think he was expecting me to actually show up and he seemed really happy to see me. He ushered me into his living room where he had two friends visiting, an elderly man and woman sat drinking tea. I introduced myself, explained what I do and why I was there and finally took the photo out of my bag and handed it to Raymond along with a print out of the original blog post for him to read later. He was a little taken aback and seemed genuinely moved.
“You’ve done a fantastic job with that.” he said.
He proudly passed it round the room as I thanked him again for being such a good sport. When he got the photo back I asked if I could take a picture of him holding the print. The lady visiting said “sit up straight Raymond” and just like when I asked him outside the Co-op last week he didn’t hesitate to crack out that smile of his.
A lot of the shots turned out blurry because he was waving at the camera enthusiastically, so I took a couple more until I was satisfied. Once I’d finished I said I had one more thing to ask him. I explained that I have to select three photos to be included in a photography exhibition to be displayed on the big screen in Centenary Square in June, July and August and would he mind if I chose this photo as one of the three. He said that I could and his friend said “Oooh you’re gonna be famous Raymond.”
Just before I left Raymond rather sweetly asked me if I wanted anything for the photo. I told him it was a gift.
“I shall treasure it,” he said.
As he picked it up again for another look my card fell off the back of the frame (I always include a card with my prints) and he tried to give it back to me.
“No, keep it,” I said. “I don’t know if you’re on the internet but it’s on my website as well in case you want to show anyone else.”
“Oooh website,” said the lady, visibly impressed.
“ I don’t even know what the internet is,” said Raymond.
“Somebody might Raymond,” said the lady. “Keep hold of it.”
I said my goodbyes to everyone, thanked Raymond again then left them to the rest of their day. Just before I left we agreed we’d probably bump into each other again at some point in the future and we shook hands and said “see you around.” I really hope we do bump into each other again.
It might just be a coincidence, but ever since Raymond jumped in front of my camera my photography has been given a new lease of life and I’ve been enjoying going out with my camera again. His positivity and evident love of life is truly beautiful and he occasionally pops into my head when I’m moping or feeling sorry myself. Since properly meeting him this week I have this fabulous image in my head of him taking himself down to town one sunny afternoon and sitting in front of the big screen with a cup of tea and a bag of chips waiting for his picture to come on, and when it does that smile appears again. If that happens I hope I'm there to see it.
Thank you Mr Foster. It’s been an absolute pleasure. See you around.
P.S. Be more Raymond.
To see full page versions of the photos of Raymond visit: