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The Miracle Portraits

A photographer asks everyday people about a special moment in their lives.



There are two ways to live your life — one is as though nothing is a miracle, the other is as though everything is a miracle. — Albert Einstein


Aboriginals believe in two forms of time; two parallel streams of activity. One is the daily objective activity, the other is an infinite spiritual cycle called the "dreamtime," more real than reality itself .... It was believed that some people of unusual spiritual powers had contact with the dreamtime. — Quote from the film The Last Wave by Peter Weir


I set up an awkward old camera on a street corner and ask strangers to tell me a miracle story — some moment when the veils parted, intuition trumped logic, the worlds overlapped, and dumb luck won out.

In this age of street distractions and public isolation, where we're all so fearful of each other, the surprise is how many people say yes, and are willing to share an intimacy with a stranger.

I record their story, then duck under the black cloth and focus on their magnified eyes. As they hold perfectly still, I load the film, cock the shutter. And in that suspended moment of silence, as they look honestly into the lens, the picture occurs.

Often in my discomfort, I rush and fumble, and try to fill the silence with small talk. This is a mistake — like whistling in church. People want to bring their full self to this moment, with as little distraction as possible. People want to surrender into the ceremony of the occasion.  

By telling their story to someone listening deeply, then standing for an old-time portrait, this spontaneous moment between strangers meeting on an ordinary street corner transforms into a ritual of remembrance. We drop briefly into dreamtime to witness where the mystical has left its thumbprint on the mundane.  

Ira Goosby

Unemployed, Oakland

I experienced it yesterday. I went to church with my family and I've never been emotional at church. I don't know what happened, but I just got up and walked to the front — something I've never done before — and I just sat there and cried. I cried all day. I could not tell you what it was. It just happened.

The pastor called me last night, and he says, "Is anything wrong with you?" I say, "No." But later, about 10 o'clock, I called him back and say, "That's not true. I need somebody to talk to." And I think that probably saved my life. Seriously, because I'm an alcoholic, and I'm a compulsive gambler, and I'm fighting with that, and I don't think I can do it by myself. So God put a man of God in my life to tell me I'm strong enough and I can do it.

And today is a new beginning in my life.

Rebecca Ansar

Student, Oakland

I met my boyfriend a few months ago.

Before we were actually together, I was at a grocery store with a best friend and there was a coin on the ground, and I was like okay, if I pick up this coin and it has his year on it, then I'm going to marry him.

I picked it up and it had 1990 on it. So I'm going to marry him.

Paul Bradshaw

Graphic Designer, Oakland

I was born with cerebral palsy. When I was four years old I had a leg extension done, where they saw your bone in half and start spreading it every day. My leg grew three inches to help me walk a lot better than I would have without it. I was one of the first kids to get that done.

My mother kept me going in the mainstream schools instead of the disabled classes with students that expected people to give them things all the time.

I see people that have cerebral palsy and are wheelchair-bound and it makes me glad every day that I can walk and talk and do most things that are normal.

Ruben Mendez

Homeless, Oakland

I did drugs before, when I lived in Richmond. Well, I just kept on getting credit from my dealers because I thought I was getting my check soon. Then I was not sure if I was going to get my check. So they put me in a car, and they were going to kill me because I owed them money.

But the next day, thank God, the check came. I was really relieved, because they were serious about that. So after I paid them off, that was it, I changed my way of doing things. Now I drink, but I don't touch drugs no more.

Patricia Jordan

Unemployed, Oakland

I made a mistake once and got into a man's car. He took me underneath a freeway and told me to strip. But I prayed and asked the Lord to let me live.

He saw that I cried and somebody else stopped, and so then I should have run away. But I got back into the car and the man was nice enough to drop me off six blocks away from my father's house.

I think that person would have hurt me very badly if I would of took all my clothes off.

Kwanda Hood & Tahji

Minister, Oakland

I was abused at eight by my mom's boyfriend. He threatened to kill me so I didn't say anything. But my mom was like one with him, and she started mistreating me like he mistreated me. So most of my childhood I was living in hell.