Frédérique (Stranger #50/100), Paris Montmatre

On my recent Paris trip I made the mistake of walking too much. On the Saturday I went over 40,000 steps (a threshold I’ve only reached twice previously in three years – one a marathon and one a half marathon followed by half day hike). As previously noted, my usual modus operandi is to find a background, test shoot for exposure/separation and then wait for the right person. Trying to cover too much ground in too little time, I found myself repeatedly breaking my process, marching on to cover ground.

This saw me miss some great strangers; caught without a background I paused that millisecond too long and they were on their way. A few hours into the day, aware of this problem, I’d made myself the promise that if I saw someone to shoot then – comfort zone or not – I would stop them and tackle the background as the conversation unfolded.

That resolution in mind, struggling up Montmartre, I saw Frédérique. She had an incredible, ethereal poise, and poignant, almost haunting intelligence about her that whispered of an old, noir-cloaked Paris.

Like Franck earlier in the day, she listened, understood and agreed to take part in the project, so long as I could follow a few hundred yards, in this case to a bus stop. She confirmed the times, and noted we had eight minutes.

Slightly too close behind the bus stop, but on hand at least, I noticed these black, glossy metal bars – offering a workable backdrop. Ideally I’d have shot with an extra twenty paces between us and them, but without that luxury, we framed the shot and talked.

This is the first frame of four that we shot. In the comments you’ll find the “straight out of camera” version – in which I’d nicked the top of Frédérique’s head. Among the various self-enforced rules I’m observing in the quest for a consistent look across my project is having the full head in the main shot. Her pose, and expression, though were such powerful echoes of what had inspired me to ask if she would take part that I couldn’t use one of the other three shots. (So often I find the first frame is the strongest).

Enter Photoshop, wherein I rebuilt the missing details, widened the frame and de-cluttered the background.

There’s a photo-journalistic streak to street photography, which I respect, and this processing perhaps runs counter to that – yet I’m comfortable with that here. The ends, I think, justifies the means. Still I’m going to push myself harder in two seemingly contrary directions following this experience. The weekend reminded me to stay true to my MO, be patient, find a quality background, rein in distance covered and be ready to wait for the right person. Yet this shot, and Franck’s, have forced me to accept that sometimes you just have to jump in, ready or not. As my grandmother noted in her memoirs; “You regret the missed opportunities more than the mistakes.”

If you’re still with me after that ramble, you might wonder why I’ve written so much about the shot and the processing, but little about Frédérique herself. She was a superbly interesting person to speak with, yet amongst the topics covered were some thoughts on privacy which I must respect. She asked that I only share her portrait and name.

This is portrait #50 of my 100 Strangers Project. Half way in and I cannot recommend it enough as a learning project, and as one of Flickr’s best groups. If you’re at all interested in taking part, why not check out some interviews with those who have completed the project. A new one is live today with the fantastic Paco_X which might inspire you further!

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