Portrait of a Stranger

River passerbyer
Spring cleaning
“A simple smile. That’s the start of opening your heart and being compassionate to others.” – Dalai Lama

I commenced this weeks assignment with my routine method, starting with the research. I studied the works of Louis Daguerre and his famous The Boulevard du Temple photograph of 1838 (considered to be the first photograph to include an image of people), Andre Kertesz – Pictures from my Window (1954), Diane Arbus – Central Park Circa (1956), Martin Parr – Bad Weather (1982), Thomas Ruff, Philip-Lorca Dicorcia – Head (2002), Irving Penn Circa, Mark Hobbs – Passers-by during the Covid-19 Lockdowns, Rineke Dijkstra – Beach Portraits, Tom Woods – All Zones, and Chiara Mac Call – Life Through Windows (2020).

I watched several videos recommended by our tutor. Two about an American photographer Alec Soth distinguished for his portrait photography. I found them very insightful, exploring his journey through the world of photography. I relished learning about his artistic process and the practice of meditation, that is very close to my heart and seems to be inextricable to Soth’s practice. He brings out a subject of ethics and guilt withing portraiture, which is extremely important to me as a photographer, and I found it very interesting to see his point of view on the subject.

Sofa Sessions: Conversations with Martin Parr – Alec Soth (2020).

Slowing Down – A conversation with Alec Soth (2020).

I also watched a short (unfortunately) video about Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen, a wonderful artist with a big heart. I adore her personality and how she speaks about photography, warm, connected with the world and people around her, finding quality and beauty where others wouldn’t even look. I found her work and attitude very inspiring, and will definitely return to her photography repeatedly.

Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen – ‘You Always Reveal Yourself in the Pictures’ | TateShots (2016).

Additionally, I studied a talk with Richard Sandler – what a story! Investigating the journey through his life, and many jobs not even remotely related to photography, he eventually became one of the most notable street photographers. It makes me wonder about the future and the paths I will cross, as learning from Sandler’s experience, anything can happen, the trails of life really are unknown. What shines through is passion and love for photography, capturing ‘that’ moment, which he often assigns to luck, although, I think he had something to do with it. Overall I found the talk very valuable and instructive, yet, I am torn regarding his attitude towards street photography ethics, but that is a subject for a completely different, and very long, conversation.

Richard Sandler – Street Photographer & Documentary Filmmaker (2019).

I aspired to unveil the people and activities in my community, and demonstrate how easy it is, despite everything going on right now, to squeeze a little human interaction into the day. The photographs I took were all (apart from the man at the train station) created within five minutes walk from my boat. I thought about my space, and how I could take control of it, instead of it controlling me. Through this unit and difficulties caused by Covid-19 pandemic, I am exploring the, initially worrisome, world of limitations. I am presently examining the space in my direct proximity, recognising the potential of it. Hence I limited myself even more on purpose to see where it will take me. I wandered around and chatted to people in the neighbourhood (nowadays everybody is up for a chat!), asking if it’s ok to photograph them. The answer, to my content, was always yes! The reactions were sometimes surprised, other times a little bit awkward, but still, a smile and willingness were a constant. I felt pleased with the enriching and valuable experience that resulted from this assignment and much more conscious that people really like being photographed, even if they are a bit shy (or confused – why would I photograph them?) they are typically eager. I value this knowledge and will carry the lessons I learned from it on my journey.
And as I always say, you don’t ask you don’t get! So ask!

‘Reference List’

‘Richard Sandler – Street Photographer & Documentary Filmmaker’. School of Visual Arts. (2019). [Online video] https://youtu.be/LHkOzbR3F5c. Available through YouTube. [Accessed 30/01/21].

‘Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen – ‘You Always Reveal Yourself in the Pictures’ | TateShots’. Tate. (2016) [Online video] https://youtu.be/_JIhAmLEENE. Available through YouTube. [Accessed 29/01/21].

‘Slowing Down – A conversation with Alec Soth’. Foam Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam. (2020) [Online video] https://youtu.be/IZs6my9XP3A. Available through YouTube. [Accessed 30/01/21].

‘Sofa Sessions: Conversations with Martin Parr – Alec Soth’. Martin Parr Foundation. (2020) [Online video] https://youtu.be/fUyzwFJe2-s. Available through YouTube. [Accessed 30/01/21].

Published by Elzbieta Skorska

My name is Elzbieta Skorska. I am a second-year photography student degree at MMU.

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