The 100 Strangers Project, as the name suggests, is a project in which I'm trying to photograph 100 perfect strangers.
While trying to come up with new project ideas, one day, I stumbled across a forum post at the Digital Photography School website. A user there shared some images from his own 100 Strangers Project and wrote about his experiences. I bookmarked the website but promptly dismissed the idea.
Although I was intrigued by the project, at the time, I was too intimidated by the thought of approaching strangers on the street and asking to make a portrait, right there, on the spot. I'm naturally shy and reserved and perhaps a bit awkward, and so a project like this seemed like a bad idea. I pictured myself stammering, fumbling with my camera, and being chased away by an angry mob.
But I'm 15 strangers into the project now and that has yet to happen. Most people are happy to participate. Those few that have said no, have been very polite about it. A few more are a bit reluctant at first, but once I explain the project and show them some examples, they're in. They seem to respond to the simple fact that I have a fixed goal: 100 strangers, 100 portraits. That's tangible. That makes sense. And I think it actually helps convince them to participate.
It's not just about numbers though. The 100 Strangers Project is also a social experiment. Each time I approach a potential subject, I'm up against a social barrier. In the first place, I'm a stranger too. I have to gain trust. And then, to this person I've just met, I make an unusual request: to take their picture. Not just any picture, or quick snap with a phone, but a real portrait of the individual (at least, that's my aim).
It's ok to take pictures at special events, birthdays, weddings, casual outings with friends etc. You can Instagram your meals, or your duck-face selfies. Cat-beards were a thing, for a while. Cameras are more prevalent then ever, as we know.
But a portrait, that's different. It's personal. You have to trust that the person behind the camera is sincere, and that they're going to do a good job. And so I'm doing my best, each time I photograph a stranger, to make a good portrait, and to repay them for their time and their trust.
This project has one more aim, which is to help me confront my shyness. It's not so much a problem where I can't or won't interact with people. Not at all. I'm not anti-social. Actually, I think I'm fairly well attuned to people. I just don't do very well in crowds. I prefer to keep my distance, observe. People take that to mean I'm standoffish, or rude, but I'm just cautious. Also, I can be a bit awkward and uncomfortable with introductions.
When I'm trying to photograph a person, I get anxious. I'm on the spot. They're on the spot. I forget how to adjust my exposure comp, or I crop the subject in a weird place, or I can't lock focus to save my life. I catch myself talking too much, too fast, or not saying anything at all. It can be an awkward experience for everyone involved.
I'm hoping that this project will remedy that. Approaching strangers on the street, asking for a portrait; 100 repetitions of that should get some results, at least, that the hope. If I'm going to be a better portrait photographer, this is exactly the sort of project I need to do.
So that was the first set of portraits, coming from the first three "sessions," all at Balboa Park. I will be posting more portraits soon.
Thanks for visiting. See you next time.