I think it all started with a new camera. I had a real need to photograph people. Harassing my friends and family was not enough. I thought that there must be a better way to get people to model for me. At one point, I thought about posting in a Facebook group (for models and photographers), but something didn’t feel right. In our current world, there are plenty of reasons why you would like to avoid some online groups, so I didn't proceed there. All of that was quick-thinking. Simply, I was trying to figure out how I could practice and get my social media flow more frequent. In other words, I wanted to create some consistent content. Aaaaaandd I left it like that.
At some point at time.. - I’m not sure when exactly, but in the meantime anyway - I noticed a movie on Netflix called “Julia&Julie”. I had never heard about it before, but because I like Meryl Streep and few other actors in it - I watched it. And it mesmerised me! It was a very pleasant family movie. Apart from the story that I liked on its own, I absolutely LOVED what the movie was about. If you haven’t seen it - I strongly recommend it. I don’t want to spoil anything if you haven’t heard about it before, so let me just tell you this - it was a huge inspiration for what I did next.
One night I came across video by Jessica Kobeissi - photograph a stranger (the link to this video -> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=psaY0JrDkDk) and it grabbed my entire attention. I thought - OMG! THIS IS IT! That is absolutely IT! BRILLIANT IDEA - That is what I want to do -> This is what I WILL do!
I started planning the entire thing. Some of the questions that I was asking myself were: Can I publish photographs of random people? How can I take a picture of a person that I will for sure not get kicked in the bum for doing so? How can I make sure no one will break out the argument of: “don’t take a photo of me! / do not dare to use them”, etc.? What will the photos look like? Will they be any good? I was looking for the answers online and apparently, you CAN take a photograph of a person in a public without their knowledge and post it, BUT I didn’t want the risk it, because of other stuff that I mentioned. Not only it would be super unpleasant, but I knew for sure, it would result in ending the project and probably cave me more instead of develop.
(One of the biggest challenges for me is the fact that I can be super shy :D - I thought that it would be FANTASTIC exercise to overtake the fear of talking to people. English is not my first language and even though I graduated University I am not using it without frequent and rather stupid mistakes - this makes me very nervous to talk to strangers or in front of a group if I have to speak in English.)
Finally, the last motivation was desire for exposure.
Most projects of photograph a stranger are set for a hundred (100) of people. Perhaps perversely to what I mentioned above I actually knew that if I will start doing it I will achieve this - 100 in no time. So, after the movie “Julia&Julie” the idea of having something ongoing for a year was simply ‘cool’ and I wanted a task that would keep me focused for a longer period. The last thing is that I imagined myself in a year ahead (which is now) - and I was happy and proud that I DID IT (a whole year). I hate the feeling of failure, so that kept me going.
WHO WAS MY TARGET AND HOW DID I DECIDE WHO TO ASK?
Anyone! I was trying to focus on anyone above 18 years old (I did not want to deal with complications in case someone was underage). I hope everyone was. There were days that I have been walking around for ages (that’s how it felt at least), passing street after street and not being able to ask anyone, sometimes it was a matter of catching quick eye contact, sometimes it was just a roulette on “the feeling” that the person will be nice ;) and open enough that they would let me take a picture of him/her. Once I took that first photo, it was much easier to ask the next person. Once I asked few people, I was in a motion for getting those photos done.
HOW OFTEN WAS I TAKING PICTURES?
Realistically, I knew from the start I will not be able to go out in the city to take pictures every day. Think about it. A YEAR of photos.. Holidays, celebrations, events, going away, days with the family, hangovers, other projects, other photoshoots, another editing bonanza..and so on. In my opinion and this realistic vision it was IMPOSSIBLE to do it that way. Ok. Maybe not that it was impossible impossible, but knowing myself - it was impossible for me. I decided then to take few photos in advance to start with. The very first time I asked my ‘strangers’ for a photographs was on my way home from another photoshoot. I asked several people that night, so I could be prepared in advance for at least a week. I was actually scared of a break. I was worrying that something will happen that I won’t be able to go and take the pictures and
I will have holes in the project. That was actually my biggest fear about it. Happily that didn’t happen. The first few times I was taking only few photos to cover a week. My daughter was taking guitar lessons on Saturdays morning in the city centre, and I was working on the project during this time. Then I changed formula. I was travelling to the city in different days when I needed and by accident I manage to get more and more of them at one go. First time when that happened I covered - almost 3 weeks! It was a great feeling :) Amazing actually. Feeling of security - I won’t run out of photos - security. After that I was going once a month. I walked around the city for 1-2h and coming home with around 30 days worth of pictures.
POSING. YES? NO? WHY?
I know that it would look much more interesting if I would at least pose everyone to take more of a street - fashion kind of photo. (Think about it..I could build up a great portfolio that way! :D ) If not posing, then maybe candid photos - capture everyones real emotions. However, the idea was overwhelming me in terms of consistency. I knew that I need 365 photos and the idea itself of getting them was already challenging enough, but to think of finding a person not only willing to have their photograph taken, but to feel comfortable enough to pose for me, even if it would be for only few minutes - was scary. I didn’t see it happening all at once. I wanted also to be sure that the entire project will have the same structure and that no one will have a problem with the fact I am going to post it online. Now - I think it could be possible.
HOW MANY PEOPLE SAID - NO - TO THE PHOTO?
Some. Not many. Once in a while I was thinking about the frequency and ‘on eye’ I would say that 2 on 10 people said - no. The reasons were all sorts. They didn’t have to even always give the reason, it was rather clear. Some people blushed red immediately at the thought of having their photograph taken and completely refused. Some people were in a rush (although I was trying to avoid them, I couldn’t always see that they are…but when they responded…I heard in their voice). Some people were soooo confused about what I was asking of them that they preferred to stay ‘safe than sorry’ (I think) :) and declined.
Others weren’t sure what I mean by ‘Stranger’, and I saw in them - a worry - that maybe I was targeting their ethnicity. Several local people were telling me “you are a bigger stranger than me”. The rarest reaction was looking down at me with ‘wtf- how dare you even talk to me’. Yeah, it happened, but thankfully it was rare. Before I began this project, I was ready to take ‘no’ for an answer. I was completely aware that this would happen, therefore maybe surprisingly, it completely didn’t bother me, nor discourage me.
WHAT WAS I SAYING TO PEOPLE AND WHY THIS?
“Hi, excuse me. I am doing a Photograph A Stranger project. Is it ok if I would take a quick photo of you?” That was the final version of what I was saying to everyone for months and months and months. I started with introducing myself..I was saying that my name Is Margaret and I am doing this project, etc. It felt long. I still wanted to have the element of introduction, so I changed Margaret to Gosia. It still felt long. People very rarely listened until the end - instead they were just simply shaking head/saying “no” and passing through. They were reacting to me like I would like to maybe sell something or I was one of those people that won’t let you pass them on the street without signing up for something. I was always on my own, I wasn’t very chilled out to start up some loose conversation with everyone, so I decided what I would say to them would have to be quick and as informative as possible before they would switch off. What I was saying..worked.
WHY CITY CENTRE? WHY (ALMOST) THE SAME AREA?
Accident really. I wasn’t planning at first that I will focus on Glasgow’s city centre only. I knew I would be going abroad in the meantime and hoped I would have some people from those places..but that didn’t happen. I didn’t even attempt, as I was too busy with the purpose of my trips. Once I had a walk around the place I live, but only once. The route was an accident. Resulted ‘in washing’. I was simply parking in the same spot and when I was walking to the city centre, I was asking people on the way. After few trips I noticed that every street had its own behaviour. Argyle St was usually full of people in a rush, shopping, or going back from
work, etc. They looked and were reacting to me - tired. Almost no one agreed to the photo there. However, once I turned to Buchanan Street the people there were different, more leisure, more tourists, more calm enjoying their purpose there. They were more likely to have their photos taken. Buchanan Street was super easy for me to get it done. Merchant City was very similar, BUT there was much fewer people as well, so I was getting them there, but much fewer because of that. I was looking for a situation where taking pictures would be cause as little distraction for others as possible. I didn’t want us to be centre of attention for crowds.
WHAT WAS I EXPECTING FROM THE PROJECT?
I was expecting to challenge and test myself. I wanted also to know how it felt to have such a big thing completed. Such a consistent task! I would lie if I said I wasn’t hoping to be
slightly more popular..this didn’t really happen haha.
An exercise I suppose. I wanted to see what happens. Simply.
WHY INSPIRATIONAL QUOTES WITH POSTS?
First of all it is very difficult to come up with an interesting story about the person - if you haven’t really talked with them, or the photo - you took as one of 5 from the same location, or a day - if you took 30 photos that day. I thought inspirational quotes would fill up the silence. Why was silence not what I wanted? Let me tell you first about another project called ‘People of New
York’. Similar photos to mine were posted and there was a quotation under every post which I was sure that particular person said - I don’t know that for sure, but I think so. I loved it. I loved that entire project. Made you notice individuals of such a big city. When I started however, I wasn’t asking anyone to tell me something about their life. (Maybe that would be something I would include in the structure if I would do it again.) Therefore, I couldn’t do anything like that other project. Let me tell you. All the inspirational quotes..surely inspired at least - me ;) Good affirmation exercise. That’s for certain, because even if no one else did - I read them all :D ;)
HOW DO I FEEL AFTER COMPLETING THIS PROJECT?
Satisfied. Relieved. Happy. I feel like I can do anything I set my mind to!
WHAT CHANGED BECAUSE OF IT?
I am definitely more confident in terms of fulfilling my plans.
DID IT HELP ME AND HOW?
In some meaning - yes. I feel like I can do anything. It is a matter of confidence to make your plans work out, and I feel like I gained this confidence.
NEXT PROJECT? ANY PLANS?
Nothing similar to this one for now. I have
other ongoing projects, completely different to ‘Photograph a Stranger’. I am trying to expand the scale of my business at this point, and let me tell you..it absorbs much more time than I expected :D
IF I WOULD DO IT AGAIN, WHAT WOULD I CHANGE AND WHAT WOULD I DO THE SAME?
-> If I would do it again, now that I know I can, that I know it is possible and I also know how people reacting I could go further and try to pose my strangers and create street fashion collection.
-> Do less, but more thought-through. No need for time pressure.
-> Maybe, ask people to say some short and unique story from their life..
-> Short introduction.
-> Attitude ;)
You can find entire gallery on my website here: https://www.mkcphotography.uk/blog/photograph-a-stranger-project.
Film where I am talking about the project: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iMoRYg5_6rY&t=684s.