Thoughts on Portraiture and my Practice – talking to Westminster University Students

  • On 9th April 2012

Last Friday I was invited back to Westminster University, where I completed my BA in Photography in 2007, to talk to the current 2nd year students who are working on a documentary photography module. Preparing my talk was an insightful process for me as I traced my own relationship with the documentary genre back to the very same module I completed at Westminster which would have been in 2005. Seeing my Westminster project Ways of Life as the root to the documentary genre I prefer to work in today highlighted the key skills anyone planning to work within this genre needs to start developing at an early stage. People skills are paramount. As is the ability to be able to both plan and think on your feet. Although the edit here of this early work omits people, they were key to the project in terms of making it happen. The next project (also completed at Westminster) I discussed led me into a discussion about portraits within the documentary genre, which is a whole other area that I started to work more in-depth with later. In Aarti-In Search of Spirituality I attempted portraiture but used experimental exposures to explore the movement and atmosphere of my subject in an attempt to convey something of the priest’s prayer ritual. Peter Bialobreski’s Journey into the Spiritual Heart of India was inspiration for this work at that time.

Thinking more about the challenges of documentary photography and in particular portraits, I realised that even though my final project completed at Westminster – about an asylum seeker silent voice – was a sensitive and intense portrait of one man’s experiences, again I chose not to include portraits of him in the traditional sense. I felt whilst shooting this work that portraits were too intrusive and that it would have a far more powerful effect on the audience to attempt to convey a sense of this man’s isolation in other ways, to evoke a portrait rather than present one in a more traditional way.


Portraiture within the documentary genre is something my practice has been building up to. Whilst discussing with the Westminster students my most recent piece of work Peacehaven in III Parts, I hope to have conveyed some of the complexities of working in this genre and the importance to let your project guide you through your decision making process. Each element of my work is part of its own journey of development. When you isolate an element from the whole there is a logical path. Sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of your ‘direction’, leading to feelings that there aren’t strong connections from one piece of your work to the next. I am thankful to Westminster for asking me back as a visiting lecturer to discuss my work as it has opened my eyes to connections within my practice. Perhaps this talking about ones own work is a little like my own photo – therapy, with myself as the therapist…