Burkina Faso, 2017
A brother and sister pose while returning home from their evening chores.
I'm often asked why I don't take photos of people smiling. Here's why :) I love taking portraits. I see it as an honor and challenge to take someone's photo and be responsible for how they are portrayed. I love to try and capture souls at their purest, earn the trust of the subject and for them to let their guard down to capture a moment of raw self/ honesty. Especially in Western/ European cultures, where pop culture now perpetuates a responsibility for redefining ourselves on a daily basis. Portraiture is traditionally a western value and privilege. Although all cultures began with stories of humanity through paintings and carvings it was the west and European culture that progressed our idea of human story telling to how we know it. We've been familiar with it since paint hit canvas for the bourgeois, affordable glass plate to film photography and now pixels shared instantaneously created by anyone with a phone. We are in a new era of story telling and how we represent ourselves. We have become so self aware that we know to pucker up, suck in and push shoulders out before the camera is set, all in pursuit of an ever evolving perfection. This self awareness is also dictating how we perceive others more than ever.
3 brothers wheel the family trash to the trash pile in an old Quarry at the centre of the community.
I never take a photo of someone without consent. It's a privilege. After walking around and learning more about this impoverished neighborhood on the outskirts of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, the kids naturally became fascinated by my presence and in their youthful innocence wanted to be photographed, and with the click of the camera our western idea of portraiture and self representation was challenged. Despite the environment and circumstances our perception immediately draws a narrative for these kids. Two seconds before & after they were smiling and giggly- they're kids. Traditionally, Burkini adults don't like their picture being taken, and that's fine. I'm not there to force anyone into a photo for my own satisfaction or a story. Although adults aren't willing the children find it entertaining and I enjoy sharing in their moment. Maybe their willingness to have their picture taken is a change in values, a sample of how technology is changing the way we represent and perceive ourselves at its most simplest. The first signs of portrait evolution in a proud society. I don't really know. I just know we've been told to smile, say cheese and look happy since before we knew what it was, for my generation it could well have been the first command we learned. For these kids, it's clear posing for a photo meant something else.
Young sisters stand still as statues once they got their request for a photo, quickly followed by a giggle fest. .
In these moments they went from kids doing their daily chores to stoic statues. Standing, staring, poised for capture. They haven't had the same influence of media we have to 'know' how they 'should' be positioned for a photo. After years shooting in remote locations I find this beautiful. In my work telling stories and capturing souls I love seeing how different cultures either perceive and subsequently react to having their photo taken. These evening strolls were a great experience. I share these thoughts because I often struggle with the idea of how/ if I'm representing subjects in the right manner. Sharing these images brought a little conflict given my principles when it comes to respectfully representing the subject and in this case, ensuring engrained western cultural perceptions of portraiture do not cast a preconceived idea over my new friends. So when it comes taking portraits of people smiling, it's not that I don't, it's a matter of letting the subject be themselves and for us to stop expecting them to.