Dialogic Portraits

Part of my brief for the Schumacher College work on Purpose and Profit was to explore the potential to use photographs as a way of understanding dialogic conversation and relationship. Rather than assuming conversation as discussion (same root as concussion/percussion - you know what I'm saying here...) dialogue places the relationship as the primary reference - rather than individuals and the points of view they hold.

As photographers we hold our own 'point of view' which is expressed through technique, style and our sense of aesthetic. We then tend to portray our subjects through these conventions; we see the 'subject' on our terms rather than theirs.

So, what would it be to photograph relationally? It's hard to avoid falling into a style but at Schumacher I tried to start with what was there; natural light, people as I found them, minimal and respectful intervention into what was already happening...

Capturing a sense of relationship felt difficult (think of Jez Coulson and 'the ability to hang....'). For example, Roland struck me a serious looking guy but after being around him for a while that wasn't really my sense of him. I don't think he saw me as especially serious either. We started to take a few shots which weren't really going anywhere and then he relaxed, started to break into a smile (probably at my incompetence) and...

Schumi - Roland.jpg

Anna looks like a cool Norwegian (which she is...:-) and it would be easy to work with that cliché. But after getting to know Anna I again struggled to photograph her in the way that she looks. I know that she could be photographed in a way that would seem superficially glamorous but I had experienced her as much more thoughtful and reflective.

Eventually, I apologised for the intrusion and simply pushed the lens almost into her face to get this...

Schumi - Anna.jpg

It's not the photograph that I had imagined I would take and wondered what she would make of it. Her response was; "Really appreciate it.. And I like it.. Close and honest."

So, do these photos work dialogically?  As stand-alone images I'm not so sure but in the context of our day-to-day perceptions of people in our group or team they seem to do something. I'm hoping that they might change how we see each other.

Margaret Wheatley uses the line, "No masks, no bargains" as a precursor to the kind of genuine conversation that might make a difference in the world; the kind of dialogue that could make a difference to the prospect of sustainable relationships and lifestyles.

It's a great phrase. So is '"Close and honest."

Steve Marshall6 Comments