About a month ago, Photogen.lu had challenged its members to take part in a ‘street battle’. The purpose of the get-together in Luxembourg City was to roam the city centre and take photographs of the people there, then meet up again and share images and experiences. Most of the photographers went for the candid approach, in which you photograph scenes happening in the streets where people are not aware of being photographed. I decided to do the opposite and approach people directly.
I think it’s easier to decide on a target group. If you can photograph anybody, you’re likely to end up not being able to decide who to approach. If fewer people meet your arbitrary criteria, it’s easier to pick somebody from the masses. In this case, I focused on people with greying hair.
I had a memorable exchange from the workshop in Arles in mind that day. I had asked Serge Picard how I could make my subjects feel more comfortable. He answered: ‘Why on earth would you want them to feel comfortable?’. My goal for the day then was to get out of my own comfort zone by approaching complete strangers and getting them out of their own comfort zone in the process. I went around addressing people, briefly told them that my photography club had given me a mission and asked if I could take their portrait. If they agreed, I first took a regular close-up portrait. Having a camera with a ring-light pointed at your face can be a bit intimidating, so I didn’t want to come straight to the point. The photo I was after was one of my subjects pulling their favourite face. Once a person has agreed to having their portrait taken, the first picture is just a means of breaking down a barrier. After that, it’s much easier to persuade your subject to do something silly or unusual.
In case you’re wondering why there are only men in the gallery: none of the women I asked for a portrait agreed!