I’m back in San Francisco now and have had a little time to sort of reflect on the past month that I have been traveling. The goal of this trip was to test my ability to photograph people, and to that end, I traveled to Quartzsite, Arizona to meet up with a group of RV’ers attending the gathering that occurs there every year in January and February. This may seem kind of dumb thing for a photographer to do, but in my case, I can count on two hands how many really successful portraits I have ever done. But people photographs are essential if I am going to pursue my latest idea for a project, New American Nomads. I am really surprised at how good the whole experience felt. I had built up lots of trepidation at the thought of asking people if I could photograph them. Even after they agreed, I was usually quite nervous pointing the camera at them. As time progressed, it became a little more comfortable of a process – but never easy.
It helped a lot that I was camping with a good sized group of people. I started by just hanging out with the group. Later as we got to know each other, I let them know I was interested in photographing them. Over the course of the next several days, I would approach one or more of the group and spend a little time. I think we all felt more comfortable doing this so that when it came time to make photographs, it felt a little more natural. The only problem I encountered was that virtually everyone wanted to smile when the camera was pointed at them. It’s not that they shouldn’t do this – it is what we are conditioned to do all our lives, but I think it kind of creates a false sense of the moment. Since most everyone I encountered seemed actually quite happy with their lives, maybe letting them smile was the more natural approach. In fact I did let them smile, but also asked that they simple not for at least one. I did resort to a little trickery from time to time. I would ask them to just stand there while I did a few test exposures. As soon as I said I was ready, the smiles snapped back on their faces. I will have to consider which expressions worked best.
Since I was not always with the group, I eventually settled on something of a process for when I encountered those I wanted to photograph elsewhere. I would constantly just carry the camera around with me. At certain points, I would approach someone I thought might fit in the project and simple engage them for a while. Sometimes I would photograph, sometimes not. It really just depended on how the conversation went. Since this is primarily a project about full-time RV’er, asking them if they were or not often was enough reason not to photograph. I have been including some non-RV’ers in the project as well. They exist to provide service to those who do travel and are often quite the characters themselves. I am also photographing RV’s without people in the picture as well as some of the places where people camp – both boondocking (no electrical or water hook-ups) and RV parks. It is all part of the experience and I think needs to be included.
In looking over the work I’ve come home with, I think my goal for the month was successful. I believe I’ve proved to myself I can do this project. My portraiture does need some work – I lost a number of good images due to nervousness and made a number of exposure mistakes because I didn’t pay enough attention to settings, but overall I am quite happy with my results. I will be traveling again beginning in August to the Pacific Northwest for two to three months and will be photographing heavily for this project again. In the meantime, there are competitions to enter and portfolio reviews to attend. It is looking to be a busy spring and summer. I will also be posting within the next week or so, a new gallery of this project – the work so far. Look for it soon.