How I use a camera to engage people — the pictures are only a secondary benefit.
The camera is a social device. Taking pretty pictures is a respectable ambition but it’s one that I’ve never really shared. Photography has always been about documentation and illustration — a way of collecting a record of what I observe and experience as well as a means of communicating it.
The aim is to turn the camera into a prop that I can engage people and places through. It’s something that keeps me focused on what’s around me. It gives me a reason to look a little closer at things, to walk down an obscure path, to crawl through the window of a derelict building. If I’m out taking pictures I’m looking around, observing, thinking about what is around me — searching for the interesting, the beautiful, the strange.
I often take photos of people not because I care about publishing their likeness but simply because I want to talk with them and need an excuse. Taking photos opens the pathways for asking questions, which is what I’m really after. The two play off of each other and go together. Shoving a camera in someone’s face without saying anything is dehumanizing, while asking a barrage of questions for no apparent reason can be confusing or intimidating.
The object is to show a genuine interest in the person you’re engaging. People like to talk about themselves, everywhere. It is this interaction that’s of interest, taking pictures is just a method to help start it. It’s a way of breaking the social barrier, a way of introducing yourself . . .