In this post I will discuss the early development of my MA Photography project.
When I considered a photographic project to undertake for my studies, I initially wanted to continue the documentary approach to portraiture I had established in my previous work which included staged portraits that were made in collaboration with my sitters. I also wanted to challenging myself and employ strategies that were outside of my comfort zone; until now I had taken self-portraits and photographed family members in Latvia, but had little or no experience in photographing strangers.
Having limited time and ability to travel, I had to come up with a subject that was easily accessible to me so I decided to explore a more immediate community. As an experiment I posted an advertisement on a Facebook group set up for cat owners in my local area, offering free portraits with their pets.
My aim was not to make work about cats, rather the animal fulfilled an important role as a strategy to gain access into stranger’s homes and, possibly, learn more about the people who had little more in common than owning a cat. With each shoot I had to establish common ground with my sitters and negotiate relationships, which created safe environments for taking pictures.
A common stereotype attached to ‘cat people’ is of being loners, yet somehow approaching this particular community felt safe. Perhaps, in my role as a photographer I myself became cat-like, being invited into stranger’s homes, wandering in and out, with a permission for observation. Each portrait I took was a negotiation and a collaboration with my sitter, a strategy I had developed in my previous work.
So far I have photographed cat owners at seventeen separate locations over a four week period. During the project I have learned to be quick in identifying “a stage” for the portraits to introduce narratives, negotiate the desired outcome, control lighting and direct the distracted sitter whilst getting attention of a continuously moving animal. In so doing I have found myself making different kinds of pictures, from staged portraits to more observed documentary images. Initially these might not seem to sit together, but I am interested to exploring these different approaches as a form of practice as research.