It’s something that is becoming ever more popular among photographers in the US: ‘street portrait’ photography, photos taken right there in the street, without the help of studio equipment, with the aim of capturing the true character of the subject, au naturelle, with no special lighting or other effects.
It hasn’t caught on yet in Italy, but I have begun to try it out and I have to say that I find it really rewarding. It works like this: when I’m out and about with my camera and I see someone who’d be a good subject, I go up and ask if I can take his or her portrait… They usually look at me as though I’m mad, so I tell them a bit about what I do, I show them my work and let them see some portraits I’ve taken before, and, of course, I ask them to give me an email address so that I can send them the finished item. Most people say yes and are happy to be the subject of the sort of photo that they have usually never had taken before. Then the preparation begins: together with my subject, we look for a suitable background – it could be a wall, a shop window or something nearby that they like – and I ask them, in the meanwhile, to tell me something about themselves, so that I can start thinking about the sort of portrait it will be. Once we’ve found the place, I ask my subjects to position themselves however they like, to look at the camera or to look elsewhere, and this is when you witness all sorts…
Young people who tidy their hair and give you a massive smile straight at the camera; women who blush and aren’t able to look at the lens; those look up at you from lighting a cigarette like some Hollywood hustler; the older ones, who never stop talking and can’t stay still for a second, not even when you ask them to; and the insecure ones who try a thousand different positions and ask you how they look, whether there’s something out of place, or which is their better side. When they are finally happy, I take the photo, and then curiosity gets the better of them… Everyone asks to see the photo and you just have to see the looks on their faces: those who think they look ugly, or fat, those who didn’t realise their noses were so big; predominantly negative reactions. Only very few think they look good… So then I have to reassure them and show them what we will do in post-production… I use a Samsung NX300, a mirrorless camera that can transfer photos immediately to a smartphone or tablet computer, so I can work on them straight away and demonstrate the whole process to my subjects; I always love to see how amazed people are by how much a photo can change.
I start post-production by changing from colour to black and white (which I prefer for portraits), then I accentuate the chiaroscuro effects to bring out certain expression lines or battle scars, I make the details cleaner and clearer and, usually, I crop the image to make it a medium close up. I then send it to the person straight from my phone, and more than one of them have replied to thank me; some have even printed it off and had it framed.