Train-spotters and stalkers
Street portraits have been around almost as long as photography itself and they are a part of most photographers’ repertoires, but some photographers are obsessive in their collecting of types to the point where street portraiture is their practice. They are entomologists, train-spotters, archivists, stalkers, genealogists, who trawl the streets searching for types to add to their own eccentric taxonomy of humanity; a taxonomy that carries conviction through the photographer’s consistency of vision rather than any more objective measure. It is the clarity of vision, the ability to see people, rather than just look at them, which determines success in this field. The modern master of this practice, Hiroko Kikai, offers a musical analogy; of transposing the ordinary from a minor to a major key. Kikai’s haunting of the Asakusa Temple in Tokyo for the last 4 decades in search of selective specimens of humanity achieves a quiet majesty, forming a body of work that is more of an offering than a taking.
In the same spirit Jason Tilley’s wanderings are on the streets of India from where he brings us a reminder, and I welcome frequent reminding, that people are weird, wonderful, and us.
Chris Steel Perkins
It has often occurred to me that I could be described as a collector of people and faces and whilst I was travelling through India, I did on occasion, recognise that I could also be described as a ‘stalker’of sorts, but I had never previously been conscious of the fact that I might be collecting ‘types’.
Admittedly , when I delve through the six boxes of black and white film and the thousands of negatives that I collected between 1999 and 2009 I realise it is natural to typecast me as an ‘obsessive’ and within my collection I admit there are lots of different ‘types’ to be found.
Many will naturally question: Who is this white man who spends time looking at the ‘other’, pointing his camera at people in areas of the world that do not concern him?
And so they should. The very act of questioning and criticising suggests the photographs have provoked thought and in turn a response. What is the context in which I make these portraits and what do other people think about me photographing ‘the other’? Had these questions ever entered my mind, I may never have made any portraits.
Is it an obsession? Is it stalking, compartmentalising, stereo-typing or even fetishism? Probably all of the aforementioned depending on your own personal take. After all, is it not endemic of objectivity to be the slave of human subjectivity?
As E.M. Forster highlighted in his novel ‘A Passage to India’, it is a complex world where ‘the Spirit of the Indian earth … tries to keep men in compartments’.
Jason Scott Tilley