IN PHOTOS: Love and the many ways it's pronounced Photos and words by Cassidy Arrington.

During the fall semester and winter break of my sophomore year at Yale, I shot street photography in my hometown of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as well as my partner’s hometown of Chicago, Illinois. I quickly grew uncomfortable with much of the popular representation of street photography I found when studying the form’s legacy. Some of the most popular street photographers seemed to use the people they photographed as tools in telling a story, rather than as the source of the story itself. I listened to interviews and talks with photographers who went out looking to use subjects on the street to capture the glance, or the dirty fingernail that would say whatever a glance or a fingernail says about a place and the people that live there. This kind of photography treated strangers as subjects to be composed rather than as actual people. I have put together this series of photographs and the stories behind each photo in an attempt to broadcast those moments when street photography documents a human condition that is based in gentleness, passion and love — both understated and unabashed. These images aim to represent how I remember the individuals in each frame and how they impacted me, rather than what my silly little image says about the life they lead.

I do not know the name of this man but I find myself thinking of him more times than may be normal. He was the second person I asked to photograph that day, and the second who allowed me and even offered a pose. This man talked with a smile, but he was hesitant to show that it was toothless before my camera. I saw him as I was walking down Germantown Avenue, hoping to get a few shots on the way back to my house, and he shouted to me and gestured for me to come over and talk to him.

He slurred his words and waved his arms, and though I struggled to understand him, I knew we would have had an animated conversation if I stayed. But I didn’t stay, I took the pictures, said I would be back since I lived in the area, and went on despite him gesturing for me to sit down.

I hadn’t noticed then the jug that rested on the step beside him, but when I saw it later the man began to remind me of my older brother. Of course, the next time I walked by these stairs weeks later, he was not there and, of course, I felt I had taken my pictures and left him nothing — not even some company on a Saturday afternoon. I regretted not staying to talk with him, this smiling man whose name I do not know, but alas, he was a man who I did not know, maskless during the year of 2020. And I was a girl with a camera, on her walk back home.

I was taking pictures while waiting with my partner for the trolley that would take us the final 30 minutes of our long journey from Germantown to Southwest Philly when I took this picture.

Before this, I had a few photos of strangers, graffiti and my partner, but when I saw this couple approaching, I knew I had to ask for a picture. They walked with pride, and a shared preoccupation with each other that seemed to render everyone else a part of the scenery.

When I asked for their picture and they said “Of course,” I suddenly felt ashamed that I couldn’t bring myself to be so fearless when my partner asked to hold my hand walking down the streets of Germantown. The man on the left leaned into who I could only assume was his partner to prepare his pose; I took the shot, thanked them and watched them walk to their trolley berth to get where they were going. I never truly understood why so many queer rights movements centered around the term “pride” before this moment.

Until then, I thought that I didn’t like public displays of affection because it made me uncomfortable when I saw it from others and in some cases that might have been true. But the truth is, I love holding my partner’s hand, and so this day I realized that part of what made me uncomfortable about doing so was that it felt dangerous and indictable. I was willing to refrain from simple acts of affection if it made me feel safe, as if the purpose of affection was not to generate safety out of simple body language. I may never have stopped this couple if they had been a man and a woman, because what has a woman to fear about posing for a stranger’s camera with the man she loves?

I shot this image the day after New Year’s, when I finally decided to stop being stubborn and try to go out and shoot digital since I was too broke to buy myself more film anyway. This day I decided to stop by a thrift shop I had never been to near Germantown and Lehigh that I noticed on a 23 ride one day. I hopped off the 23 I was taking to go drop off film to be developed, and I went into the store looking for camera gear.

I found nothing of use, because it was one of those thrift stores that aren’t really thrift stores, but just sell the stuff that no one buys from retail stores. When I walked out, I made a beeline for the bus stop, then started looking around for pictures when I saw on the transit app that it would be a little while until the next 23 arrived.

I shot a few people I saw on the street, but there was this group of people outside a small business laughing and talking in the way that neighborhood friends do. I had noticed them when I got off the bus, and I promised myself that I would work up the nerve to get a picture of them if they were still there when I came out of the store.

Fortunately, unfortunately enough for myself, they were still there, so I crossed the street, told them I was a street photographer and asked if I could take their picture. There were about four of them talking and the first to respond said no. But by the time the girl and guy in this picture had agreed, the man who initially said no changed his mind and wanted one too.

When I explained myself and started shooting, the girl dapped me up and I laughed. Only one of them had a mask on, so I was kind of risking it all, but it was a breath of fresh air to interact with Philadelphians who looked like me and likely grew up in similar neighborhoods to my own. For the first time in a long time I felt like I wasn’t the only one in the space who understood what it meant to be a Black Philadelphian from an underprivileged community. Being at home was as simple as a dap up, and an “I gotchu.”

The next day as I was going to post the photos on my Instagram, I discovered that the man in the red hoodie in this picture came home that day to find that his dog had died. He posted pictures and videos of their walks together over and over, and I empathized with his pain because I knew what it was like to have that one person or thing that helped you keep a smile on your face taken away from you suddenly. I sent him the pictures I took and offered my condolences, and later in the year when I posted newer photos of my work, he asked me if I’d photograph him again when I came back to the city. I smiled, and maybe my heart did too.“Bet!” I’ll be sure to hit him up as soon as this semester ends.

It was sometime after 7:30 a.m., on the last day of my first trip to Chicago, and my partner was insistent that I try Old Fashioned Donuts on the South Side before we go back to Philly. We had only been in the city for a few days, so that we could attend her mother’s wedding: her as the marriage officiant, and myself as the photographer.

When we weren’t with her family or doing our schoolwork, she tried to take me everywhere she could to show me why she loved this strange city where the people moved with a southern sway and snow fell for no reason at all most days. On this last day, she asked her Papa to bring us here before we went to the airport, and even though we had to run to catch our flight because of it, I’m happy we went.

This is probably my favorite picture that I’ve taken this year, not just because of how I feel when I look at it, but also because there was a kind of chemistry between myself and the way my partner knew her city at that moment. As we walked up to the donut shop and I saw that all the donuts were made in front I knew I had to walk back some and begin to think about taking a picture. This man saw me trying to figure out how I’d set up my shot and looked over and shook his head with a smirk as he went back to kneading the donut dough.

I laughed with Zaporah, and took my shot, in disbelief that the man regarded me as if I came here with my camera all the time, trying to get fancy shots of him kneading his dough and frying donuts in the early morning. I felt like a little cousin, or child of a relative to this man, though I didn’t even know his name. My partner and I entered the store, and I finally understood what she missed so much about Chicago during those long months that we were away on the East Coast.

This morning, I finally saw my best friend Miranda again. She had come back to Philly for fall break, and we went to get breakfast together just a few days before she had to leave again, so that we could see each other again and she could finally meet Zaporah.

Her mom dropped her off in front of my house early in the morning, and after she came in to use the bathroom we started on our way toward a Black-owned breakfast spot in Chestnut Hill. The 23 was taking forever, as it does, so we decided to keep walking until it eventually caught up behind us. Walking in a direction on Germantown Avenue where I rarely went, I took pictures of a lot of the new stuff I saw.

When I spotted this familiar artwork on the gate of an abandoned high school, I knew I had to take a picture, as I had seen and photographed similar work in the area before. After I took my first shot, I heard music playing to my left and saw a man blaring music from his speaker crossing the street on his bike in our direction. I kept my camera up and waited for him to cross just to see what I would get, and just as his music was loudest in my ears I pressed the shutter.

I didn’t think the shot turned out very well at first, but as I noticed his smirk, and the letters “BLM” peeking out behind him, I began to love this picture. It makes me happy in that carefree way, like how you feel when you’re pedaling down the street with music filling your ears, and not a care in the world for who’s listening with you.

Zaporah felt bad that the museum she took me to wasn’t what she thought it would be. She had expected thought-provoking exhibits around feminist art and creative expression, but instead we got room after room of photo opportunities. This was fine with me: After all, who needs to think when you can take pictures?

I spent all of our time there photographing her in the studio-like exhibits of Chicago’s “Womanish” chapter. By the end, my feet hurt and I was ready to listen to Jamila Woods and head back to the South Side for jalapeno pizza from my new favorite pizza store, Beggar’s Pizzeria. Just as we came from the bathroom and were looking around to see if we had missed anything before we left, I noticed these women at the table.

I remember one of them reaching over to the other’s face, maybe wiping away crumbs or something of the sort, and I knew I had to take a picture of them. I decided for myself that they were in love, even though they could easily have been friends, or sisters, or any other combination of non-romantic associates.

I didn’t really want to know the truth about them, because what was beautiful to me was the idea that two women could grow old together and visit museums where they wipe crumbs from each other’s faces while resting their feet. I set up my exposure then snapped a shot quickly before walking out with Zaporah, smiling and sated. I like that their faces are silhouetted. I get to imagine that this story can belong to any woman-loving Black woman one day, even if it didn’t belong to the woman in the picture.