When asked to take someone’s portrait, outside of a concept, I always begin the process by thinking about the ‘real’.
I like to think about the approach more than the technical. Most people don’t enjoy being in front of the camera, part of themselves can become tangled in self-inhibition and shut off to the lens. This is common, and does no favours in creating a true representation of the subject, their story and their usual inner workings – which we desire to see, when we look at a photograph of someone. Building trust and rapport on set is integral and the essence of this ultimately is inserted within the work.
This commission was particularly interesting for me as a photographer, as it also layered within the shooting dynamic – ‘photographer and photographer-as-subject relationship’, and that brought with it a richer sense of self-awareness when shooting. This practice illumination can be off putting but I always try to welcome a challenge and a chance to work outside of my comfort zone. We learn so much by doing this.
So when Photo Collective reached out to me to photograph Tom and Harriet, my approach revealed itself within that manner of being pushed a little beyond comfort. I knew I had to shoot with film and in a way that allowed an explorative nature of shooting, giving my trust over to the process and harnessing a sense of play. It’s almost like shooting blind once you’ve shot with digital and are used to that instant workflow. Photo Collective emphasised within their brief to shoot creatively in my own way, so I decided to continue a line of inquiry that I often work into my shooting; in-camera multiple exposures, and playing with long exposure and movement.
Shooting on film allows the organic nature of this style of image-making to have its final say over the composition. Once developed the results show lighting and exposure variations, where the frames have manually lined up, some images are under-baked artistically or technically, but the ones that come to fruition and meet the visualisation (or even add more to it) bring results that I find more interesting than when I have applied double exposures in post-production or in a digital format. It feels more truthful to me, a representation of the time an image was made, of imperfection, of exploration and playfulness, and of not always playing by the rules. I find inspiration in things not working out as much as I do when something is perfectly executed. This is life.
To shoot this way I come prepared with various films and cameras, props and fabrics for texture, and a mental starting point of the type of shots I would like to layer to help create a nuanced composition. Little direction is offered initially, as to engage with the natural presence and energy of the subject, I’m guided by them. As shooting goes on, the more mentally involved my on-set planning becomes, whilst including my subjects within this process and talking through things to try (and of course what may result). I find it’s usually those seconds of private pauses or in-between unguarded moments where the subject’s truth is delivered most potently to the camera. When layering the exposures in-camera, it’s always so intriguing to see the final image, and just how their differing expressions and shifted body positions or props land within the one frame. It can lead to a deeper insight into the subject, more information in just one image, and therefore a quicker entry into their world.
This is the intention of this practice, for me.
The long exposure acts as a representation of time, a slow motion, as if we can breathe the same breath upon viewing the moment captured. Shooting long exposure with strobe lighting/flash photography can also create a result similar to double-exposure. By the end of the session we are all a bit looser, and the more freeing moments are captured at this point, as it happened with Tom and Harriet. There’s almost a separate journey and story worth acknowledging as you view the contact sheets in order of shooting.