In a multicultural city such as London, you will, for sure, encounter a plethora of amazing faces, fashions, cultures and personalities. It’s a candy shop of choice when it comes to portrait photography opportunities. It’s a great place to immortalize a snap shot of time and culture.
There are two main types of street portrait photography styles. The first is when your subject is unaware of their photo being taken (at first at least) and the photographer is using a hide-and-seek approach. A good example is Vivian Maier, who used a Rolleiflex film camera in the 50s and 60s and which you would shoot from the navel. The subjects were unaware of the camera as it was not held up at eye level. Vivian’s photos gave the subject a very grand feeling as the portrait was taken at an angle looking up at them, even if the subject themselves were not a grand figure in stature or being.
Maier only became famous post mortem, when a lot of film was purchased at auction by John Maloof. Maloof discovered that Maier was arguably one of the most significant street photographers of the twentieth century and made the fantastic documentary ‘Finding Vivian Maier’, as well as curating her work. Finding Maier’s undeveloped films, hundreds of them, was the photography equivalent of discovering buried treasure.
She did also take portraits where the subject was fully aware a photo was being taken, although many were very natural, unforced forced poses. Perhaps she was lightning quick and somewhat unthreatening as a woman with a camera or perhaps it was simply not the norm to be photographed like in our camera-phone, Instagram world today.
This takes us to the second type of street portrait: the ‘aware’ subject. This is a style I quite enjoy myself. The way I go about this is to wander about the streets looking for people with interesting styles and faces. I generally go by gut feeling – instinct, I suppose – about whether I want to take a portrait of someone or not. It’s usually based on a fleeting glance. So the first challenge is to find a subject, which is not too hard to do in London. The second challenge is approaching that person and asking permission to take their portrait. It’s all to do with the approach and manner you adopt. Because I seek out slightly ‘alternative’ looking people to take portraits of, they are generally more likely to say yes as there is an element of how they look that they want to be noticed in most cases. Why have purple hair if no one sees it, right?
When I approach the person I do it calmly, with a genuine smile, and say: “Excuse me, I’m doing a personal photography project on London Style (I point to my camera around my neck) and I love your look. If you don’t mind I would love to take your portrait. I’ll give you my website and you can save the photo and use it however you want for free.” The majority of the time a subject will say yes because s/he are flattered. If someone says no, I figure out if it’s just a shy no; some people are a little embarrassed at first and I’ll say ‘Oh go on you look great’, and they will. You can just tell when someone really is not interested and in this case I don’t push it and say ‘Ok no worries, cheers.’ Remember there’s always another opportunity right up the street. I also don’t want to look at a photo with a reluctant pose as it’s a little bit negative – meaning I won’t have the portrait I desire.
I was inspired by the ‘Humans of New York’ series by Brandon Stanton. His photos feature an eclectic bunch of people, and the portraits are aimed at revealing relatable human stories. These portraits highlight human whole, from head to toe, displaying the subject in all his/her glory and interesting fashions. These are also posed portraits, considering they are also telling their story to Stanton and have been made into a series of books.
For me, taking portraits is a passion. Faces tell a story and the eyes really are a window to the soul. It’s exciting for me to stop strangers, take their portrait and make a friend. Art is literally walking by us every day, the art of the human, the art of human expression. What we see in the cities of the world is really an expression of the zeitgeist – a particular mindset, politics, and art – and it will never happen again; photography can freeze the essence of present time for future generations to enjoy and say “Look what they used to wear!”
This post was originally posted on 'Run For Your Life' by Lucas Richert: https://lucasrichert.com/2017/03/07/street-portraits-by-morgan-scott/
Written by Morgan Scott
Photographs by Morgan Scott