The Tobacconist

Portrait Photography: Seagram Pearce
The Tobacconist: Mr Turk
Series: Shopkeeper Series – No1

The story of The Tobacconist is a beautiful one that started a global series of portraits. His store was 2 blocks down from my studio in Shortmarket Street, Cape Town CBD. For months I walked past his store every single day when I’d go get coffee from Greenmarket Square. It always struck me as such a beautiful old world feeling store. Wooden paneling, a musky tobacco and cigar smell in the air.

On one particular day, I walked past and as I looked in, Mr Turk was sitting in his store looking out at the people passing by. There are moments as a photographer when you *see* your photo before you take it. His sitting there just made for such a compelling portrait. I entered his store and exchanged some pleasantries. I joked that I didn’t smoke so that was not my reason for popping in. He smirked and said, “I’ve never smoked before in my life either!”. Can you imagine that, a tobacconist for decades and never smoked himself.

I asked him if I could run back to my studio to get my camera and he obliged. A few minutes later I was back at his store and got him to sit once again as he was when I saw him earlier. He made the suggestion of holding a pipe as a prop (which also sparked another theme element to the whole continuing series). I wanted his environment to really engulf him, so my first frame was the wide shot of him in his environment. Another frame was much closer, the focus on his beautiful aged face.

In the moment, I knew I had what I was after. I didn’t need to shoot hundreds of frames. I liked the fact that it was so brief and concise. It was the type of real life portraiture that I wish I could do all the time.

Unbeknown to myself at the time, Mr Turk started a portrait series that has since spanned the globe in my travels. He was an absolute gentleman, the type of man who thanked me for taking his portrait afterwards. He will always be No1.