Once, long ago, I was in a pub. That in itself was not remarkable. I was involved in a darts match. I could throw a good ‘arrow’ in my day. Went out on 161 once. At the end of the evening someone remarked that I had not been paying attention to the event but had spent my entire sojourn ‘people watching’. And so it is, even today. I find people fascinating. Let’s be honest. Good friends are good friends, even after 30 or more years but I rarely seek out the company of strangers. But watching them? Aha! That is different. Every person has a history but to most people it is hidden. We make our judgements on superficial factors: appearance, voice, accent, clothes, make of car and dare I say, on occasions the camera used.
Photographing strangers invites you to construct your own history. From the simple portrait to the complex story image how you interpret the subject may be a country mile away from reality. That does not matter. The good photograph is layered and as the old Yorkshire saying goes, “there’s nowt so queer as folk”.
People are, aside from being individuals, part of a generation, a class, a race and every other box you care to slot them into. Personally I like the thought that the moment in time is there to compare with past and future times. How much of today’s wonderful and wide ranging digital documentary portfolios will survive the way of prints from dad’s box brownie.
I look back at pictures my father took in the 60s and 70s. They show a different world. My brother and I building towers of cards or dominoes in between squabbling. Me gazing into the window of Coyne’s (I think) in Widemarsh Street (or was it Church Street?). They sold Corgy and Dinky cars. Probably Matchbox too. I must have been about 7 at the time. People reflect the norms and customs of the era. A generation is shrinking. Three score years and ten was probably three generations. Grandparents, children, grandchildren. The rule of thumb probably has not changed but I am convinced we have generations within generations, such is the pace of change. On a course I attended last year a visiting ‘expert’ described how his 3 children aged 18, 12 and 5 had incredibly different attitudes towards and aptitudes for technology. I doubt if any of the children has ever built a tower with playing cards. I saw a lego exhibition recently in which great buildings, indeed sites, of the world, were portrayed. We had Meccano. Lego existed in the most basic of forms. The idea that we could create a passable imitation of the Taj Mahal would never have flitted across our minds. (Am I the only person ever to have been disappointed with ‘the real thing’?)
I love photographing across the generations. It moves me when I see the bond surviving across the years. If there is a bridge to cross we should run. Here are two images:
The good…… just looking at the smiles cheers me up. Are they grandmother and granddaughter? No idea but there is a carefree spirit of fun that radiates from either end of the age spectrum. Don’t argue about the quality or otherwise of the image. It is not a technical critique. Would I have been happier without the background figures? Of course but they were there and cloning them out, Soviet style, isn’t my style.
Maybe the look on the girl’s face is just a fleeting moment that misrepresents her thoughts but it is an image that makes me think and wonder. What is in the the old lady’s mind? What has her day been like? Where is the young girl hurrying to? There is real purpose to her stride. Where did the flowers come from? Are they to give or received? Why does she seem to glance disdainfully at the old lady? We will never know and we can imagine what we will.
People watching is fascinating. People photography is challenging. It is however rewarding. Shooting with a rangefinder and film is even more so but that is for another day. And all this from someone who actually is at his happiest away from people. That is a contradiction I have not yet fathomed for myself. To be continued……… maybe.