Andi and I recently signed up to 52Frames with a view to submitting one photo a week, taken that week in response to that week’s particular challenge. The first three challenges were fine – a self-portrait, motion blur, your hobby.
Then came week 4 – a street portrait of a stranger. This was no longer a challenge of exposure, focus, composition or other technical skills. This was a challenge of self. I hate approaching strangers. A day out photographing without speaking to anyone is my idea of bliss. And now I was being challenged to not just approach strangers but to ask them to allow me to take a photograph of them.
I knew all the arguments. Most people are happy to have their photo taken. Rejection is not personal. To improve at anything you need to step outside your comfort zone. You just need to face your fear. That’s great. I understand it all. But it doesn’t relieve my anxiety.
In the end I decided I couldn’t commit to a year long project and then give up after 3 weeks. I would have to at least TRY.
What was the result of my facing this challenge? The above portraits were taken on two short walks around North Adelaide where I live. Two were of strangers who were just walking by. In this situation I had no choice but to approach them and quickly ask for a photo. Both said yes without hesitation. Maybe I was just lucky although I was selective in choosing who to approach. A lot of other people passed me by whose body language made me hesitate.
The other portraits were taken with a different approach, one I found much more enjoyable and less threatening (to me). These people were all engaged in some activity, working on the street, in a shop etc. In each case I spoke to the person for five minutes or so before raising my camera and asking for a portrait. By this time I had shown them that I was interested in them, their work or their location. It also gave me time to determine how likely it was that they would agree to the photo or not. On occasions I would simply walk away after talking but on those occasions when I asked for a photo they all said yes.