100 Strangers, 100 Personalities, 100 Stories
A photography project that has been fascinating us for a while now are the 100 Strangers. According to the project’s group, "The 100 Strangers project is a learning group intended for those wishing to improve both their social and technical skills needed for taking portraits of strangers and telling their stories." The challenge being to "Take 100 photographs of at least 100 people you don’t know [by approaching them, asking] for permission to both take a photo of them and to post it to this group."
To get some more insight and tips we have spoken to six people who have already worked on the project and asked them how they got to know about it and about their experiences.
The first photographer we spoke to was
jim_darling, who lives in Washington, DC. He tells us that he stumbled upon the 100 Strangers project in May of 2008 and immediately knew that he was going to do it: "In fact, I think the more accurate response would be that I HAD to do it."
"I came across a photo on the stream of a user called Wan-Der-Lust. She was documenting her move across the US from Washington, DC, to Colorado and along the way she had started the project. I don’t believe she ever finished but it was her fifth photo in the Project that I saw and discovered the link in her description of that photo. Before I even read the instructions I had a very good feeling I knew what it was going to be about. And like I said before, I just knew I was going to take this on."
Jim was laid off from his job as a graphic designer about two months prior to his discovery of the 100 Strangers Project and at the time he found it he was really in the mood for something new and creative to do: "Photography had always been a passion of mine but now, here was a reason to start shooting again."
"I’m not sure I have a secret ingredient when approaching a potential subject", he says. "I think that personality goes a long way when taking on this project. One of the biggest obstacles or challenges that is mentioned in the group description is about getting out of your comfort zone, and getting over the fear of approaching people. I don’t think that was ever a concern of mine. In fact I was excited at the prospect of talking to and getting to know new people, and now, because of the project, I had a reason to approach them. "
Jim explains that people have asked him how he decides who to shoot, and he thinks that the photos sort of answer that question on their own: "As was the case with most of my Strangers, they all just had that certain something that I noticed right away. If I can’t picture them as a photograph that other people are going to find inspiring or intriguing then I don’t shoot."
"The best advice I ever got from others is to give yourself about 5 seconds to decide whether or not you’re going to approach a subject. The longer you wait, the more nervous you’ll get. Not to mention the potential for them noticing you noticing them increases and that could make them uncomfortable. Have a set a business cards (moo.com) made and always have one ready to present to someone. It lets them know that youre serious about the project and it gives them peace of mind knowing they’ll be able to see the final product."
Some of Jim’s many favorite Strangers can be seen above, and he loves those photos for many different reasons: "Some are simply excellent examples of a technically good photo, others are because of the story attached to our meeting or what they shared with me. But the absolute favorites are those that inspired a lasting friendship with the subjects."
Visit his set to see all of Jim’s 100 Strangers photos.
Next we spoke to colinlogan who started his 100 strangers project because he wanted to improve his portrait photography: "It was hard to talk my friends into having their portrait taken. Asking strangers gave me exposure to far more people than I could shoot under normally. It also gave me quick results which kept me motivated."
"I’d seen the photography of Markus Schwarze on Explore and every shot drew me in. I was amazed that you could create such striking pictures without expensive lighting or much control over your environment. Every day people looked beautiful and interesting in his photos. I wanted to be able to do that."
Asked if he has a secret ingredient for approaching his 100 strangers, colinlogan says: "I’m not sure if I had one. Confidence helps of course, but I didn’t have that until I was a decent way into the project. I always tried to approach people respectfully and tried not to make them feel pressured or trapped. This meant walking up to them from in front, quickly asking for their picture and saying ‘Thanks anyway’ if they declined. I suppose having a big bulky DSLR gave me a bit more credibility."
Colin is very proud of his 100 strangers project, saying that "it’s a body of work that I’ll have with me for the rest of my life. Walking around the streets meeting people and practicing taking photos was great fun. It got me out of the house and gave me something to talk about with my friends. I think it also improved my photography a great deal."
If you want to get to know Conlin’s strangers, visit his 100 Strangers set.
Joep R. from Amsterdam in the Netherlands was our next interviewee, and he tells us that he has been into photography for only three years. During that time his subject interest has changed a lot: "In the beginning I was mostly interested in landscapes, this then changed to cityscapes followed by street photography. Doing street photography really made me realize that I like to take photos of people.".
On Flickr, Joep had noticed a few members that were participating in the 100 strangers project. "At first I didn’t think much of it but as time progressed and the urge to take portraits of people (instead of candid street photography) arised, the idea of the project grew on me."
When he went to China last year, Joep decided on the plane over that he would seize the opportunity and start his 100 strangers series in China. It turned out he was lucky: "A lot of people in China like their picture to be taken so this was a great place to start." Since then, Joep has photographed strangers in New York, Brazil and Holland. He says that so far "I have only processed the China series and a bit of the New York series, the rest will follow over time." So stay tuned for the next photos that he will share with us in the coming weeks and months.
Asked about the benefits of taking photos of people on the street and if the project has changed the way he looks at others now, Joep tells us that he had lots of very nice conversations with interesting and kind people that he otherwise would never have had: "It is great to have a conversation with someone you don’t know and otherwise would never had spoken to. Especially in big cities like New York and Amsterdam, were I live, it is nice because normally we people pass each other on the street without looking and are preoccupied with our own lives. I also really enjoy talking to people of all walks of life, every time this makes me realize that we are all people and are all the same but different in our own ways. Of course this is a cliché and we all know this but how many times do we really feel this way. Doing my stranger project has made me more aware of this."
Some of us might think that approaching strangers and asking them for their photo might lead to conflict, but Joep says that he has never experienced any: "Most people are very friendly and politely say that they are not interested. While I’m not asking for model releases, I tell the people about my 100 strangers series and that their portrait will be used for this, my portfolio and maybe an exhibition some day. So I will not and can’t use their portraits commercially which is not a problem." However his 100 Strangers project has also resulted in commercial success, where Joep was hired by a dutch client to shoot a strangers series.
Asked why his strangers look so relaxed, Joep says: "I don’t really have a certain thing that I do to make people relaxed. The most important thing is that you really need to have respect for the person you are asking and being relaxed yourself. I guess these things make people feel at ease. Another thing that is important is the timing; I only ask people when they are not in the middle of something like a conversation, on the phone, look like they are in a hurry, etc. These things will not make for a relaxed portrait. One last thing is the weather, a sunny day in the spring will surely make for more relaxed portraits then a windy day in fall. However I still want to get a pouring rain stranger portrait, that would be great!"
Joep also adds that being on Flickr has surely helped his photography: "There are so many great photographers on Flickr and it is a great community. You find all sorts of photography on flickr which helps you find what you really like. There is so much great work on here so it helps you improve your own work. Apart from that it also a great way to get your own work out in the open. I have sold a lot of work through Flickr, even to several magazines and some of my work on Flickr is licensed by Getty Images."
You can see all photos that Joep has uploaded so far in his set.
jimmiehomeschoolmom also gives us a quick insight into her experiences with the 100 Strangers project. Curiously, she also started her 100 strangers project in China, while she was living there, in drab cities with no blue skies: "I needed something to make me look for the beauty around me. Photography did that. This project was a good structure for my photo taking."
Her secret ingredient, she tells us, was being a foreigner: "Well, I was a blonde, blue-eyed American woman in China asking to take a photo. My shock factor was high! Most people were flattered. Some looked at my SLR and thought I was a professional just because of the camera. That impressed them. (If only they knew the truth. I am such a novice.) Occasionally I was rejected. Often rejection came out of modesty or insecurity ("I’m ugly", "I’m wearing a work uniform.", etc.). Only rarely did people reject me out of anger."
When we met buio, from São Paulo, he tells us, "I do not know for sure how the project started. I used to shoot a lot in the street with my friends and over time I was directing my style to portraits. I liked to photograph people, but was too shy to approach them and ask for a picture. One of my friends, Weeney Bolfaine, was the one who introduced me to the 100 strangers project. I did not give a sh*t, but over time I was asking strangers on the street for a photograph and geting the project together was just combining the picture with peoples’ stories, or, like most of the time, writing how I got to know the people.
For buio, there is no secret to the 100 strangers project: "Just approach someone, introduce yourself, talk about your photography. Leaving some contact information (phone or e-mail) ensures a degree of trust with the strangers and so do the pictures."
He was able to get a lot of inspiration off Flickr: "Some Flickr photos are great references for shooting portraits. I like the work of Benoit Paille, Markus Schwarze, Eduardo M. Viero, Weeney Bolfaine, Leonardo Cardoso, Billy Lam, and Lauren. I have not finished my project. I’m halfway through and actually have several pictures that were not posted and plan to return to the project soon."
Head over to see the stranger’s photos buio has taken so far.
We hope you all enjoyed the interviews and the tips. Head over to the 100 Strangers group if you want to give the project a shot or enjoy more beautiful stranger portraits.