A stranger Léo 57 years old

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Uploaded 24 Nov 2009 — 57 favorites
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© benoit paille
Views 1237
Likes 1
Favorites 56
Comments 38
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Photo Info
UploadedNovember 24, 2009
TakenFebruary 24, 2009
ModelCanon EOS 5D
Exposure1/125 sec at f/2.5
FlashNo Flash
Focal Length24 mm
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Photo license: © All rights reserved

first met Léo when I saw him going through the garbage and recycling bins right out the window of my office at home. I went outside to offer him some soda cans and glass bottles. Given its winter I asked him to come in. I noticed he had an interesting face, so I asked him if I could photograph him, to which he agrees. I asked him if he had a phone number, which he doesn’t, so I propose to go to his apartment for additional photography. He warns me to wait a week before stopping by, his apartment being apparently unsuitable for guests. I tell him I don’t mind, mess is always great photographic material.

I end up at his house this very evening, and he greets me completely nude. He immediately puts on some pants. Next comes his apartment: I have never, ever seen a mess so bad in my entire life. Dirt on the walls, things lying everywhere, cigarette buts on the floor… The whole thing smelled of a horrible fusion of cigarette and sweat, all crammed in one, tiny room. I had trouble even moving through the place, and couldn’t even make room for my flashes.

I talk with Léo, he is 57. His wife left him 26 years ago, but he still fondly remembers her. He’s an alcoholic, has 2 daughters, one of which he’s never even seen. He’s done 15 years of jail and been a street bum in Montreal. I ask him why he’s been in prison but he won’t tell, finding it more suitable to tell the tale of when he stabbed his cousin. He shows me his 2 baseball bats and his enormous machete. I start to sweat and ask myself what the hell I’m doing in a place like this with this guy. I convince myself not to be afraid, that there’s nothing to fear. So I keep talking with him, taking pictures. As time passes by I realise he might be suffering from schizophrenia. I learn that he was in reform school at 14, I tell myself it evidently didn’t work. He has this strange way of trying to dominate me, convincing me more and more that he’s nothing but an old bum. I stay confident and show him that I’m not scared and our relationship is on an equal basis.

His friend Sébastien arrives. If “friend” is the appropriate word for someone asking for money, that of which Léo has none. I use this opportunity to leave (I’ve been there for more than an hour). He shakes my hand and holds it way to long and tells me he’s the boss, and that he’s scared of nothing. I am, though, so I leave right away. While walking back home I realised how stupid and naïve I was. Naïve to believe everyone is nice. I’m scared of this guy, scared that he knows where I live.
I called insurance the very next morning.

38 responses

  • carmen rugel

    carmen rugel (Deleted) gave props (24 Nov 2009):

    This is a very good capture! Sad...and after reading your story scary.

  • Francois Richard

    Francois Richard gave props (24 Nov 2009):

    Benoit, t'es photo m'impressionnent énormément. Elles ont un petit quelque chose qui fait qu'on ne se tanne pas des les ragarder. Si un jour je te croise dans une des nos rues trifluviennes je t'arrête pour une poignée de main.

  • Rhys Jones

    Rhys Jones said (24 Nov 2009):

    Really amazing work. Well written too.

    I love this and the story, people are nice you seem to be, for trying to help.

  • Mike Melnotte

    Mike Melnotte gave props (25 Nov 2009):

    Truly well captured and great writing.

  • Andrea Jeckering

    Andrea Jeckering gave props (6 Dec 2009):

    very interesting story! fantastic photography!

  • Jim Robertson

    Jim Robertson gave props (9 Dec 2009):

    Excellent portrait but yes, you could have been in great danger. I wouldn't worry, though. He's probably forgotten you.

  • Jenny Murphy

    Jenny Murphy gave props (13 Dec 2009):

    OMG!!!!!!! freaked out or not you got the shot! OMG!!!!

  • Alain Meessen

    Alain Meessen gave props (13 Dec 2009):

    great picture, sometimes you have tu take riscs.

  • Maura Wolfson-Foster

    Maura Wolfson-Foster gave props (13 Dec 2009):

    You have my vote and my respect.....fantastic human encounter/photo, and you told his story. Bravo Benoit ~ !

  • Maura Wolfson-Foster

    Maura Wolfson-Foster said (13 Dec 2009):

    ,,,,and, lived to tell about it. ;)

  • Brad Paro

    Brad Paro gave props (13 Dec 2009):

    What a story and photo! You are a brave one!!!

  • Antje Woolum

    Antje Woolum (Deleted) gave props (16 Dec 2009):

    Fantastic story with this amazing capture!! Certainly have my vote on this!!

  • Gabriel Bernardo

    Gabriel Bernardo said (19 Dec 2009):

    buena fotografía!

  • Sean Blake

    Sean Blake said (21 Dec 2009):


  • Cindy Mikulski

    Cindy Mikulski gave props (23 Dec 2009):

    OMG dude........I'm impressed and scared for you. What a story and photo. Honestly I'll stick with shooting people I know. Got my vote.

  • Jess Smith

    Jess Smith gave props (27 Dec 2009):

    Fantastic portrait and storytelling; a memory you'll never forget.

  • Uriel Lubuk

    Uriel Lubuk said (28 Dec 2009):

    everyone has their stories to tell. you really captured a scene here. I think you'll be fine though.

  • Slimeface

    Slimeface said (6 Jan 2010):

    What an interesting story and experience you had!!

    Gotta vote a yes on this!


    STEPHANIE PEÑA said (9 Jan 2010):


  • Arindam Das

    Arindam Das gave props (10 Jan 2010):

    this pic gets ma vote..

  • ♥ Cairenn ♥

    ♥ Cairenn ♥ said (12 Jan 2010):

    Waaaay too real...

  • Martha J.

    Martha J. said (13 Jan 2010):

    Great work!

  • Andrea Cahigal

    Andrea Cahigal said (16 Jan 2010):

    thats an amazing story...i would have been very nervous to meet at a bums house. very good job on the picture!

  • Dianna Rojas

    Dianna Rojas gave props (19 Jan 2010):

    Great pic ! but r u crazy ? lots of bums r dangerous !

  • claudio santisteban

    claudio santisteban (Deleted) said (23 Jan 2010):

    great pic !!!!!!!!!!

  • Leah Garton

    Leah Garton said (3 Feb 2010):

    Great portrait! Great story, too. Your story and experience is what makes it hard to discern when to act charitably toward someone down on their luck. I have struggled with this for over a year now--in our hard times, you know. I've been taken advantage of by people who make it their profession to beg, thinking that maybe I was just helping someone. I wish there was a way to discern who really is down on their luck or who is just a product of their own choices. Again, excellent work!

  • Leah Garton

    Leah Garton gave props (3 Feb 2010):

    Definitely voted!

  • Rhaedyn

    Rhaedyn (Deleted) said (4 Feb 2010):

    wow. i love your honesty about the experience. incredibly touching shot.

  • Danny Santos II

    Danny Santos II said (18 Feb 2010):

    this story really hit me from your portfolio book (i have a copy) ... voted! :)

  • Marios Lizos

    Marios Lizos gave props (11 Apr 2010):

    great story, im scared just reading this :)

  • William Moore

    William Moore gave props (21 Apr 2010):

    Wow what a story and photo

  • JojoH

    JojoH (Deleted) gave props (10 Jun 2010):

    wow...what a story! great photograph.

  • Saba Ferrari

    Saba Ferrari gave props (19 Sep 2010):


  • Renata Yagolnitzer

    Renata Yagolnitzer gave props (26 Feb 2011):

    Incredible portrait and a wild, gripping story. Well done!

  • John Linton

    John Linton gave props (19 Sep 2011):

    F A N T A S T I Q U E n t r y !

  • Diane Bartlett

    Diane Bartlett gave props (8 Nov 2011):


  • Joylynn Graham

    Joylynn Graham said (11 Dec 2011):

    Crap...that' is so intense!

  • Katherine Nak

    Katherine Nak   said (20 Mar 2016):

    Fabulous story, and portrait! I understand your fear!

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