When Gillian Wearing asked strangers to write their thoughts on a card before being photographed it appears that she closed off the idea for other photographers. There are a small number of practitioners who have explored similar ideas (here) but its most common use is for selfies posted on line becoming something of an internet cliché.
Having collected twenty-six polling stations to represent the banal locations where the referendum was decided on June 23rd (here) I wanted to bring at least an equal number of voters into the project. Wearing’s signs offered the opportunity to include not just this minuscule sample of the electorate but to also enable them to express an opinion on Brexit now that the result was known.
I selected a neutral and common setting for the portraits with the intent that the repetitive background would not influence the viewers reading of the photographs, having the effect of focussing attention onto the subject and their hand written statement.
Each subject was asked to document their feelings towards Brexit. Apart from asking them to stand in the same corner of a outdoor space they were given no direction regarding their pose or expression. The intent was to capture an emotional reaction to their own statement.
The great strength of this approach is that it enables collaboration between photographer and subject, I made no attempt to manipulate the written statements and by photographing each subject in the same way I have endeavoured to remain neutral. The series has some attributes of documentary journalism, an open questions is asked and the interviewee’s answer is faithfully recorded.
The subjects reacted in a number of different ways. Some “leavers” gleefully reported their part in the result; they generally look more cheerful which suggests that both “leavers” and “remainers” instinctively adopted expressions that reflected their satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the result.
Looking at my overall project and the idea that twenty-six polling stations (here) are linked together by a piece of white paper printed with the statement “Polling Station” there is synergy with this component of the same project; a group of subjects who effectively selected themselves for the project by wandering into my makeshift “studio” are linked together by a white A3 card.
If we consider this series in the context of August Sander’s classic study of his fellow Germans in People of the 20th Century which provided a “simple description” of his subjects (1) this series becomes a typology but by not offering any text to describe the subjects profession or, in Sander’s terms “class” I intend the natural ambiguity of the photographs to be retained. By not guiding the viewer with my text the subject controls the message, it becomes a democratic form of communication and therefore as an objective documentary portrait as it is possible to achieve.
Notes on Text
(i) Mathematically orientated observers may argue that the series represents twenty-seven rather than twenty-six opinions but one is a self portrait and only included to balance the nine by nine grids.
(1) Sander, August (accessed at Atget Photography 18.12.15) – http://www.atgetphotography.com/Selection/sander.html