The Red Bench


I like to talk to the people I photograph when I travel, if I can. Even for a few brief moments, or a polite exchange of pleasantries. I like knowing something about the people in my images, and hearing some small part of their story.

But sometimes I don’t have the luxury of talking. My potential acquaintances either rebuff my approach, or the situation simply doesn’t lend itself to conversation. In those instances, I end up asking myself questions about them; I can’t help it. 

These two old men, sitting on a red bench, were one such instance.

I was walking through the park on a trip to Portugal with my girlfriend, and saw the pair stroll by together. They barely acknowledged each other, but were clearly walking side by side. I noticed that they had entered the park through separate gates, so it seemed to be a pre-arranged meeting. I couldn't help but ask myself: do they meet at the park every day, every week? I grew more curious.

The casual manner in which they walked together suggested that this was, in fact, a daily routine. They proceeded slowly toward the red bench by the duck pond. The park smelled like freshly cut grass and sounded like old leaves. The two men sat down on opposite sides of the bench in silence. The whole park seemed to sit quietly with them.

Several times, the man in the beige jacket inhaled suddenly. They were sharp breaths, the kind that slice through the air blazing a trail for words following anxiously behind. But no words ever came. Were these simply the gasps of weak old lungs? Was the man holding something back? Was it important, or perhaps just a commonplace observation that didn't merit articulation?

My curiosity got the better of me, and I walked around the pond to get a different angle and see their faces. Still they sat, and watched, and coughed, and smiled. I watched, too. I don’t think they ever said a word; as far as I could tell they never even looked at each other. What made them smile? They didn’t stay long enough for me to find out.

As I was coming back around the other side of the pond, the two men stood. As serenely as they arrived, they turned around and exited the park through their separate gates. The way they left without so much as waving goodbye suggested not only that this was a daily ritual, but that it was a long-standing one. It seemed they had no doubt of seeing one another again the next day, just like they had the day before. Just like they would the day after.

The odd scene left me with one final question: how long do you have to know a person before you know them that well? So well you can meet them in the park, sit at a red bench in complete silence, and smile comfortably, without saying a word. And what happens on the day that person doesn’t show up?

I hope I never have to find out. And then again, I hope I do. 

All images captured on a Canon EOS 6D, and Canon EF 50mm f1.4 lens.