Thursday, 1 February 2007

Environmental Portraiture

Image from Sufis of the Dargahs-Copyright 2006 Tewfic El-Sawy

A large part of my work is photographing people in their local context, resulting in what I like to call ‘environmental portraiture’. Some of the techniques I use are:

1. While most of my portraits have been of single subjects, I currently prefer adding a second person into an image to add a new layer to the subject matter. The image is no longer just about one person and his/her environment, and the viewers of the photo begin to speculate about the subjects’ relationship with each other, to the immediate environment and to their surroundings. A whole story plot can emanate from such images. Phil Borges is particularly adept at this technique, with a main protagonist in the photograph taking center stage, and another person in the background adding depth to the visual scene.

2. When opting for a single person portrait and realizing that the background doesn’t add much to the image’s context, I try to get as close as possible to fill the frame. On the other hand, if the background is relevant or complementary to the portrait, and isn’t distracting, I pull back.

3. The choice between candid (or natural) portraiture and posed photography is determined by the situation in which I find myself. If the circumstances allow it, I try to do both with the same subject. On my photo expeditions or when photographing solo, I frequently set up extended photo shoots, and although this goes against the grain for some travel photographers, I found that it allows my images to tell a story about the persons I photograph. During these photo shoots, I have the opportunity of establishing a rapport with my subjects, put them at their ease, interview them and record their voices along with any ambient sound. This gives me the raw material I need for the production of multimedia stories.