How to Document your Park

Aug 3, 2016
Hello Bob,

My names Atilio and I’m a 24 year old living in Calgary Alberta up north in Canada! I’m a huge fan and have been following your art for the last few years. I've been into photography for a few years now and after lot of thought and inspiration from your work I've decided I want to branch off into anthropology as well.

Calgary has a few locations not too different from Union Square and I’m going to try and create a documentary about the people of these areas. I was hoping I could get some advice from you as your art has been a huge factor in my decision to start this project!

I've never created a doc and really have no idea what I’m doing! What kind of equipment do you use for your videos and any advise that would help make the locals more receptive to being recorded and photographed? i hope to hear back from you and id really appreciate your time.

Best wishes,


Hey Atilio,
I'm definitely pleased to hear that I've inspired you to do something similar to what I was doing at Union.

Interestingly enough, when I first found myself at the Square I had no plans at all about documenting it in any way. I just fell in love with that park the minute I saw it. It was such an amazing place for people watching. It's those two factors that made it a great documentary possibility. #1 Amazing people watching. #2 Falling in love with the place.

It wasn't until after a couple years into hanging out there I realized I had to have a camera to start filming what I was witnessing there. At first I bought cheap little cameras that didn't exceed $200 and took mediocre photos, and really crappy videos. Mind you, this was around 2004 before digital photography & HD videos got as popular and affordable as they are now. And I'd already had the online presence with Jesus Dressup so I was ready with a platform to showcase my work.

Looking back, the thing I had most in my favor in regards to making people receptive to being photographed, and/or simply allowing me to shoot what I wanted whenever I wanted, was seniority. The more time I spent at that park and the more years that passed, the more comfortable I felt, and the people there just got used to me always being there. They'd even approach me wanting to be interviewed. Then when it came to filming the eccentric regulars like Wendell, Signs or the crusty punks who'd normally shun photographers, I was able to develop a relationship with them before pulling out the camera at all. As time passed and I reached the 8 to 10 year mark I was permitted to film almost whatever I wanted because the people there simply knew who I was, what I was doing, and were even there to back me up if I looked like I might be getting a bit nosey to someone unfamiliar with me. Then it wasn't until probably 2012 or so that I really developed a skill for interviewing. Now that I think about it, that started with me interviewing Shaggy for Year In Reviews. That's probably when I discovered I could basically use the same method of getting information out of anyone.

It also didn't hurt making it all into a game on the postcards to get people involved. Having something tangible to show gave me credit of sorts when approaching strangers and getting them interested in being interviewed on camera.

Around 2008 or so, after the Amazing Strangers section of my site started to actually get noticed by making the Peepers famous I had a fan email me telling me to "Check your PO Box." When I got to the post office, inside waiting for me was a brand new $500 Canon Powershot SX50 HS. I asked the anonymous emailer why he got it for me and what he wanted in return for such an expensive gift. He simply replied "I'm sick of watching the crappy quality of your stuff, but I love what you're doing there." All I had to do was promise him I'd continue to document and upload NYC for him to see. That began my love for the Canon Powershot. And it's the 2012 model that I prefer most. It has the most dependable mic, the farthest zoom reach, and has lasted the longest of the followup models I bought later.

As for editing, I've always just preferred the iMovie program that came with my Mac. As long as I was able to move audio & video around easily, and maybe a few special effect options like slow motion and fading clips together I had all I needed. All of it I found easy to teach myself over the years.

Since I started the one thing I wish I would have invested in earlier would have to be external hard drives. I've lost plenty of photos and videos that I'd give anything to have back simply because I was a cheapskate and put off buying something to back everything up on. Now I have a stack of them, and I'm so pleased to have everything safely saved in several places. In my opinion getting something like a 3 terabyte Toshiba is easily affordable, will store years and years of footage, and could save you lots of heartache in the future.

I think the biggest challenge for you will be finding a place as easy to find subject matter as Union Square was for me. I've asked people from all over the world (who were visiting NYC) if they've ever seen a park like Union in their travels, and almost unanimously the response has been, "Nope. Not like this." But I'd be really interested to see what you can come up with there in Calgary Alberta, Canada. I've yet to see anyone else documenting a park like I have, and to me it seems like an obvious hobby for any filmographer out there.

Thank you for the compliments. I hope I answered your questions thoroughly enough!
Normal Bob


Thank you so much for the advice Bob! I was not expecting such a thorough reply I greatly appreciate it! 

I hope to start this project soon after some more investigation into the different areas of my city. Luckily I have almost identical equipment to your own but I'll definitely be picking up a hard drive for back ups! It's awesome to hear about the gifted camera and doesn’t surprise me at all your works incredible and you have a lot of fans! 

Once i get this whole thing kicked off I want you to know you’ll be credited in any video I produce and I’m absolutely honored to be mentioned on your site! thanks again for everything bob! 

Best wishes,