Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Be Comfortable with Strangers

Many people gravitate towards photography as a creative outlet from a voyeuristic vantage point. You can safely sit behind the camera, viewing the world through a keyhole, watching things unfold in front of you. You can document, without becoming part of the scene.

There will come a time when you will be require to interact with other human beings. You will have to be able to make yourself understood and give direction to a human subject. For many photographers, young and old alike, this is a horrifying task.

To help many of my students overcome this fear, there is a simple assignment that I give them

1. Go to an art supply store and purchase a large pad of paper (I have the best luck with 16x20 or 20x24) and a large black magic marker. Not a sharpie, but a real big fat tipped marker that can be used to write on this pad of paper that you have purchased with it.

2. Take these supplies and your camera to a place where there are a bunch of people that you don't know. A park, a mall, a downtown area....anyplace could possibly work for you.

3. Approach someone...anyone...and tell them you are a photographer and are working on a want them to take the pad of paper and the marker and write one word on it....just one word....then pose with the pad of paper and let you make a portrait of them holding the pad with their word exposed.

4. Repeat with another person until you are done.

Students would bring this back to me to look at and ask about the images....the excercise is about communicating with strangers primarily, and photography secondarily. It's amazing to see some of the work....some people write the strangest things, others word fits their personality to a tee.

I always find this project fun and interesting. Over the years I have accrued quite a collection of these images. Beginning the in June, I will begin posting them here for you to see. It's quite a group of people.

If you want to try this, obviously use caution and maybe bring a friend with you.

I wish I could take credit for this idea, but it's not mine. I read it somewhere many years ago (can't even begin to recall where) and have been assigning it to students ansd doing it myself for 15 years of so...I wish I could give the inventor credit.

Take care everyone....and keep shooting.


Anonymous said...

That's a really neat idea.

Reminds me of something my husband did before I met him. He took a broom and asked strangers to pose with it. Somewhere in my house there's a box with all these funny pictures.

Tabitha Brown said...

I like this idea! I'm not a photographer, but an illustrator. But, I can see this exercise working for illustrators. Instead of taking the person's pic, the illustrator could do a quick sketch.

Very neat!

Anonymous said...

What a brilliant idea! I'd love to see what people write and I imagine it is a great opportunity for some fantastic pictures! Cool-ness-ness!

AnnieRoso said...

That's awesome -- can't wait to see some of the pics.

Callooh Callay said...

This is a great idea to get people over their fear of approaching strangers for photos (rather than pretending to shoot something else, or sticking with landscapes). The pictures are often better when there's that interaction.

girk said...

Scott - I love this idea. I think I will try it when I move to a place with public spaces (counting down the days!)
Elli (abitabite)