Jitka (Stranger #35/100), London Brick Lane

The mistake I made with Jitka was taking more than one shot. It set up me up with all kinds of dilemmas about which frame to use of ten. There’s an alternative shot here, and in many ways I think that’s superior – yet, less consistent in my project as a whole. I’d be really interested in people’s thoughts on the two options here.

Having shot in Camden for a couple of hours, I whizzed over to Brick Lane to mix things up. Camden Market ought to be a fantastic location for street portraits, but I find it hard to spot either usable backgrounds or really interesting people. I’d had a lot of luck with two super strangers (Belle and Toby) and thought I’d quit whilst I was ahead.

Brick Lane on a Saturday turned out to be a revelation. There were maybe only 5-10% of the people at Camden, but five times the number I wanted to shoot. The street art always offers fantastic backgrounds, and changes so frequently there’s always something new to use.

In fact, I shot Layla #10/100 in this exact spot – and the background has changed five or six times in the interim.

Attracted to this metal swing gate’s latest zebra/sonar incarnation, I settled down to find a stranger – ideally one with stripes. I only saw Jitka’s scarf, and thought it would work well on that front. When I walked up to introduce my project, she spun around and turned out to be somekind of brunette Claudia Shiffer. A crowd of 8-12 of Jitka’s friends gathered to listen to the pitch. The good news was that two of them could help with the gold reflector. The bad news was that all of them were going to stand three feet out of shot and commentate!

It was kind of fun, in fact, and I’m amazed Jitka rolled with it as effortlessly as she did. It would have completely freaked me out if I was on the other side of the lens.

The group dynamic was such that we chatted across and around, so I only got a sketch. Jitka’s over from Prague with friends, checking out Brick Lane’s street art on an informal tour of sorts. She’s shot/modelled before, and the group shot lots of their own photos. When we finished up I turned and my 1.2m reflector was neatly folded up – my volunteer assistant, it turned out, was a photographer himself.

I left with as many questions as answers, but a lot of healthy energetic chat. It’s perhaps to be expected, but I find the range of encounters on this project interesting. The successful ones always have conversation and energy and interaction; but it can take many forms. Some are deep, introspective examinations, with considered language and thoughts shared. I’ve chatted with some people for as long as an hour. Others, like this one, are really pretty superficial in terms of what is discussed, and they’re brief, but there’s a shared enthusiasm, a working together to suddenly common purpose, an impromptu trust and empathy that is pretty inspiring to be part of for a moment.

Thank you Jitka for agreeing to be part of the project. I’m in awe of your poise in front of a crowd. Please pass on my thanks to the two guys that helped with the reflector! And have a fantastic end to your London trip.

This is portrait #35 of my 100 Strangers Project – check out the group page and get involved.

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