The negotiation task was given after a talk by Jonathan Worth, discussing his own practice and the processes he undergoes during a photographic session. The photographer has the power to tell the story of the person being photographed and it is up to the photographer to converse with the subject to understand that story that needs telling, before considering the environment as a means of articulating what they have discussed with the subject.
Task Brief – “You should precipitate a live encounter with a stranger and make a series of images with that subject. During this process you should both depict the subject in the environment and at some point venture into the subjectʼs personal space, you should do this and come away with at least one personal story from them.”
I have been looking at the photographer Alec Soth for this task. Several of his bodies of work depict his journeys on the road and his portraits are created out of interactions with strangers that he finds along his way. He describes in an interview that it is a bizarre thing to do, to encounter a stranger and spend time with them, especially in our culture. But each of his portraits seem to make it look effortless and you can see the chemistry that he creates with these people he’s only just met moments before taking their portrait.
Soth uses an 8 by 10 camera, which separates and creates some distance between him and his subjects. By throwing the cloth on the back of the 8 by 10 camera over his head he almost becomes invisible to the person being photographed and they don’t freeze up as they may do with an ordinary camera being used to photograph them. Soth gets to look up close in their eyes with out them being aware of it, which gives him a great advantage as he gets to look up close on his subjects without them feeling awkward or vulnerable.
Below is my response to this task.
I had spotted this woman along the canal in coventry as she was hanging some bird feeders up on a tree, and so I approached her to ask if she wouldn’t mind having a conversation about what she was doing. I had explained to her my intentions, that I was a student and looking for someone with a story to photograph and she began to tell me about how she comes to feed the birds each winter. After we had been talking for a while she then began to tell me about her daughter who lives and works in Iraq. She had been living there during the Gulf War and due to strict security restrictions during the war she was unable to leave the country, to visit back home, as they would not allow her back into the country.
After she had shared her story with me I was faced with the challenge of having to photograph this story, but had to remind myself that we were only by the canal and so the environment didn’t really lend itself to the story. All I could do was to document this encounter with this stranger who had shared her story with me. I didn’t want the subject to look extremely uncomfortable but the equipment I had was a digital camera and a tripod, so I didn’t have the same advantage as Soth did with being able to distance myself under a cloth. Instead I chose to take my time and let the subject get used to the situation and I had an advantage with the tripod as I could set the camera up but was not restricted to remain hidden behind the camera, I could step to the side and let the subject see my face so the camera didn’t act so much like a barrier between us.
Overall I am satisfied with the result as the subject doesn’t appear to uncomfortable, although I think it is telling that this is a stranger to me, I feel that I managed the situation well enough to get this result.