Assignment: Portraits With NO Communication

Background
OK. My last post was about how good verbal communication skills are important for success in commercial photography. It was a quick diatribe highlighting how communication is essential at every step of the way while making a good photograph. If you missed that post, go read it now. If you’ve already read it, then you know that communication is an important part of being a good photographer.

So that’s all good, but we’re past that. More importantly, that post sparked a great idea: my first ever homework assignment for the brave, willing readers of this blog. And, since I never had much love for homework, this assignment is really easy – so easy that you might even be able to pull it off in the next 5 minutes on this Monday morning.

The Assignment
As a contrast my last post, and as a slight change of direction, I propose now that you go make several portraits of someone but entirely avoid communicating with them before or during the session. Now don’t snap voyeur images with a long lens – that’s not the point. Get in front of someone and shoot lots of pictures of them without saying anything. Seriously.

I see two scenarios in which this will unfold:

1) If you’ve got your subject’s undivided attention and can actually set up a basic portrait session (even if it’s your girlfriend, boyfriend, wife, hubby, friend, kid), do so except don’t tell them in advance what you’re doing, and once you start shooting don’t communicate with them at all for the duration of the sitting. Just take pictures. And when it gets weird, keep shooting. Remember: don’t prep them in advance that you’ll not be talking with them during the shoot.

or

2) If you’ve NOT got a subject’s undivided attention (more likely the bulk of us), just find a friend or a co-worker, walk right up to them without speaking or gesturing, and begin taking lots of pictures of them. And don’t stop. Use your big pro camera, or your point and shoot, hell, it doesn’t even matter — even use your iphone or other camera/phone. The point is, just start taking lots of pictures – a mini portrait session if you will – unannounced, of someone you know. Paparazzi style. Keep it going for a good minute or three. Don’t get arrested or fired from your job or ruin someones day but just take pictures. [maybe you’ll make someone’s day??]. No talking, just pictures…

The Results
Now is when I beg for your personal stories in the comments. If this social/photographic experiment is to have any application, we need your feedback. Even if it’s just a sentence. What happened? What was your subject’s response? Did they play along and “get it” or were they miffed, curious, annoyed, pleased, freaked out? What were the circumstances under which you started the session? And important: keep a mental tab on: a)what it felt like while you were shooting AND; b) if you can, what you thought the subject was feeling deep under their skin.

And then we’ll compare notes.

Please do take place in this homework exercise! (Okay, now I realize that I’m getting too excited…). Just go take pictures without communicating and share your comments here. ALSO: if you have the gumption and permission these to post to your flickr or other photo-sharing account, put a link to those shots in your comment here and we’ll all go check ‘em out. Don’t be bashful (traffic?), post as many as you can stomach posting, focusing on ones that interest you. I think this will help us understand what’s really going on with how verbal communication affects the pictures we get… And if not, then we’ll at least get to look at some interesting (?) images as a part of some strange social experiment.

Oh, and lastly, when you’ve finally taken all the shots you need/want and officially driven home your point–whatever it ends up being–please let the subject in on what you’ve done and why. Tell him or her you just had some homework, and then go buy them a cup of nice coffee, or beer, or chocolate or something. Blame it on me. And consider sending them back here to read/see the results of the experiment in which they unknowingly participated ;)

[BTW, Reader BMillios really got me thinking on this via his comment on my earlier post – thanks B!!]

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