You have to be pretty strange to photograph strangers / by Amanda Liew

One of the other categories for our Portrait assignment is photographing strangers. It could be a friend of a friend, someone you see on the street, someone you ask to photograph, etc. This was by far the MOST awkward assignment yet. First off, it's pretty obvious when you're taking a photograph of someone when you're holding an enormous DSLR camera. I got a range of reactions from people, and it was really interesting how my role changed so much just because I was holding a camera. My favorite image was also the most interesting story. I had just set out to walk around on the streets surrounding campus and didn't have a clue what I was going to do. I didn't even have my camera up ready for photos, it was just hanging around my neck when all of a sudden the man below started throwing funny poses at me. I started laughing and said, "Well sure!" and grabbed a few pictures. Interestingly enough, when I actually brought the camera to my face, he posed much more serenely. But somehow his wide-leg-stance, his gaze, his barely there smile, and everything about him sends such waves of confidence (in a good way). I was so upset later on that in the spur of the moment, I cut off his other foot. I was thinking of cropping/zooming in more in post-production so that both of his feet weren't in the shot, but somehow that took away from the power of it all. Hilariously enough, he said, "Well let me take a photo of you!" and whipped out his camera phone. Of course, my first reaction was total panic/uhh this is creepy, but then I recognized how that was pretty hypocritical of me considering I just took a photo of HIM! So I threw a few funny poses back at him, and then he said, "Let me take a video!" That got a little weird hahah. We then introduced ourselves to one another, and he asked if he could get my number to take me out to dinner. I politely declined with a thank you, and we went our own ways! What an experience


These are the fruit cart owners on the corner of 34th & Walnut. I asked them if I could take their photograph, to which they said yes, but did not move or smile. It was interesting how many people I asked would say yes and go right back to what they were doing (reading a book, looking at their phone, etc.).


On the other hand, many people were much more willing to smile and pose for me. I love the lighting of the photo and the way it hits both of their hair! 

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This guy was extremely surprised that I wanted a photo of him! He thought it was hilarious and very different, but he kindly let me take his photo as well! I think in this photo he actually wasn't posing for the camera, it was more of a smile and a laugh that I was taking his photo while looking up at the same time. I love it!

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I tried to also take some photos of strangers while I was in the Dominican Republic, but this actually made me feel very conflicted. The area that we were in was impoverished, and I felt extremely uncomfortable coming in as a tourist staying at a resort with my fancy shmancy camera taking pictures of people who did not have as much as me. I wanted to explain, "It's for a class! I'm taking pictures of strangers in general! I'm not taking a picture of you because I think X or see you as Y," but of course I couldn't. It really made me think about the role of a photographer, and the implications that goes along with holding a camera. I felt awkward taking pictures of people in Philly and on campus, but somehow it felt wrong in the DR. So wrong, in fact, that I only took 3 or 4 photos of strangers before I stopped. Then, there's the question - is it wrong to be acting differently in the DR compared to back home? Is putting my camera away pointing to an incorrect attitude I have? Am I trying to be politically correct? Am I being respectful? Honestly, I don't know! I just know that I felt very conflicted.

This photograph is powerful to me, but it might be because of the experience behind it. Her gaze and expression pierces me - it makes me question what she's thinking about me and my camera, throwing back everything I feel.


What are your thoughts on photographing strangers? I was surprised by the wide array of responses that I got from everyone!