Francis Fiction seeks the truth.
He looks for it in the faces of the people he photographs, whose stories he picks up in conversation.
And he hopes that by posting his findings to his photo blog: Humans of Hamilton, he'll be able to share those truths about his adoptive hometown with the wider world.
Born Francis Kabisoso in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he moved to Hamilton in 2005. After trying out college programs in broadcasting and travel and tourism, he settled on photography, taking up the craft in 2011.
Inspired by the popular photo blog, Humans of New York, Fiction's site, which he started in May 2012, features portraits of people he's met while combing the streets of Hamilton. His subjects range from homeless folk whose long, craggy faces tell of decades of suffering, to teens who glow with the fire of youth.
It's like an anthropological study of the city, distilled in colour and light.
Fiction sat down with CBC Hamilton's Cory Ruf to talk about his work.
Tell me about the origins of this project.
What I was doing was photographing strangers and friends and I would put a quote that they gave me on top of the photo and I would post it on a Tumblr blog that I started. And I friend of mine saw it and told me about Humans of New York, and I was like, "Hey, this is a really cool idea!" And I began researching into it and saw that a whole bunch of people were doing the same type of thing as well. So I searched to see if anybody had started Humans of Hamilton and nobody had. So I decided I was going to join the rest of the world by doing this as well.
What was the motivation to tie into the "Humans of…" concept? What about it appealed to you?
I think just the storytelling. In Hamilton, there are so many great stories. When I was studying travel and tourism, one of my professors said: "A lot of people, they always think of going to other places, but they always forget about the beauty in their own city. So if you stop being blinded by the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty, you start seeing beauty in your own place." That's how I stopped dreaming about being in other places and started looking for beauty in Hamilton. The beauty, for me, was in people and in the stories that everyone carries.
When you ask someone to take his or her picture, how do you make your pitch?
The first person I remember — I can't remember his name — he was an old man coming back from work. He looked really neat and had this really cool face. I told him, "I'm a student who is working on a project called Humans of Hamilton, a documentation of the people of Hamilton." And he said, "Is it for school?" And I said, "No, not it's just a personal project." And he was like, "That's really neat" and said, "So what do you want me to do?" Even since then, I've been doing the same pitch.
Are there certain types of subjects or certain types of faces that you're most drawn to?
I think everybody has something different and unique about them and I want to capture all of that — kids and old people. I want to capture everybody. I don't really have any preferences in terms of what types of faces I want to capture.
For a photographer, what's the appeal of capturing an image of somebody's face?
I think it's just like the emotion that you can see on their faces. For me, I take pictures of old people because I love wrinkles. When you're editing a picture, when you focus in on the wrinkles, there are so many stories that come out from that. I find that I take a lot of old people because, I feel like if I start talking to them, they'll have a lot of good stories to tell me to put on the blog because they have the experience. I think that's why I take pictures of all of the old faces, but it's very unconscious.
Do you have a favourite portrait that you've taken?
I think it would be of this guy named Denzal. If you see it, it's a photo of the really, really old man and he's wearing a blue jacket. It was one day when I was walking home from work and he was just sitting outside the Salvation Army and I thought he looked like a good subject. I asked him if I could take his photograph. And he was like, "Are you a journalist?" I said, "No, I'm not a journalist, but I want to be one." And he said, "Well, since you want to be a journalist, I'll help you. I'll tell you my story." So we just sat there on the bench for a half an hour or so and just talked about a whole bunch of things. I actually recorded it just like you're recording me right now.
What have you learned about this city through photographing its people?
There are a lot of people struggling in Hamilton. I haven't heard too many happy stories from the people that I've been talking to. It's always people going through something bad — a lot of bad, bad things in Hamilton. And that's not what I want. I want good things for Hamilton.
Where do you hope photography will take you?
I hope I become a photojournalist, to tell stories about Hamilton and people all around. A new project I want to start is called All Walks of Life and it's going to be a lot like my images of Hamilton. It's going to feature video interview and audio interviews. And I hope to do it as a cross-country type thing, through all of Canada.
So I have two options. One is that I've applied to the [Ontario College of Art and Design University]
for photography as well as Humber College for the creative photography program. If I do get in, then that's what I'll focus on for the next couple of years. But if I don't, then I'll use the money I've been saving to do this project and just travel across the country.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.