Jason Wilde’s Free Portrait Studio is a non-commercial mobile studio that follows in the footsteps of the early itinerant photographers. Visiting a variety of venues throughout the country Jason Wilde’s Free Portrait Studio invites visitors and passers by to temporarily discontinue their daily routines to take part in a short informal photography process. Staged against a neutral background these documentary portraits show the people I have met posing consciously and comfortable in their self-presentation.
so easy it’s ridiculous. It’s so easy that I can’t even begin – I just don’t
know where to start. After all, it’s just looking at things. We all do that. It’s
simply a way of recording what you see – point the camera at it, and press a
button. How hard is that? And what’s more, in this digital age, its free –
doesn’t even cost you the price of film. It’s so simple and basic, it’s
so difficult because it’s everywhere, every place, all the time, even right
now. It’s the view of this pen in my hand as I write this, it’s an image of
your hands holding this book, Drift your consciousness up and out of this text
and see: it’s right there, across the room – there… and there. Then it’s gone.
You didn’t photograph it, because you didn’t think it was worth it. And now it’s
too late, that moment has evaporated. But another one has arrived, instantly.
Now. Because life is flowing through and around us, rushing onwards and
onwards, in every direction.
if it’s everywhere and all the time, and so easy to make, then what’s of value?
which pictures matter? Is it the hard won photograph, knowing, controlled,
previsualised? Yes. Or are those contrived, dry and belabored? Sometimes. Is it
the offhand snapshot made on a whim. For sure. Or is that just a lucky
observation, some random moment caught by chance? Maybe. Is it an intuitive
expression of liquid intelligence? Exactly. Or the distillation of years of
looking seeing thinking photography. Definitely.
“life’s single lesson: that there is
more accident to it than a man can admit to in a lifetime, and stay sane”
so how do I make sense of that never ending flow, the fog that covers life here
and now. How do I see through that, how do I cross that boundary? Do I walk
down the street and make pictures of strangers, do I make a drama-tableaux with
my friends, do I only photograph my beloved, my family, myself? Or maybe I should
just photograph the land, the rocks and trees – they don’t move or complain or
push back. The old houses? The new houses? Do I go to a war zone on the other
side of the world, or just to the corner store, or not leave my room at all?
and yes and yes. That’s the choice you are spoiled for, but just don’t let it
stop you. Be aware of it, but don’t get stuck – relax, it’s everything and
everywhere. You will find it, and it will find you, just start, somehow,
anyhow, but: start.
but shouldn’t I have a clear coherent theme, surely I have to know what I’m
doing first? That would be nice, but I doubt Robert Frank knew what it all
meant when he started, or for that matter Cindy Sherman or Robert Mapplethorpe
or Atget or… so you shouldn’t expect it. The more preplanned it is the less
room for surprise, for the world to talk back, for the idea to find itself,
allowing ambivalence and ambiguity to seep in, and sometimes those are more
important than certainty and clarity. The work often says more than the artist
but my photography doesn’t always fit into neat, coherent projects, so maybe I
need to roll freeform around this world, unfettered, able to photograph
whatever and whenever: the sky, my feet, the coffee in my cup, the flowers I
just noticed, my friends and lovers, and, because it’s all my life, surely it
will make sense? Perhaps. Sometimes that works, sometimes it’s indulgent, but
really it’s your choice, because you are also free to not make ‘sense’.
“so finally even this story is absurd,
which is an important part of the point, if any, since that it should have none
whatsoever seems part of the point too”
so I do need time to think about this. To allow myself that freedom for a short
time. A couple of years. Maybe I won’t find my answer, but I will be around
others who understand this question, who have reached a similar point. Maybe I’ll
start on the wrong road, or for the wrong reasons – because I liked cameras,
because I thought photography was an easy option, but if I’m forced to try,
then perhaps I’ll stumble on some little thing, that makes a piece of sense to
me, or simply just feels right. If I concentrate on that, then maybe it grows,
and in its modest, ineffable way, begins to matter. Like photographing
Arab-Americans in the USA as human beings with lives and hopes and families and
feelings, straight, gay, young, old, with all the humanity that Hollywood never
grants them. Or the black community of New Haven, doing inexplicable joyous,
ridiculous theatrical-charades that explode my preconceptions into a thousand
pieces. Or funny-disturbing-sad echoes of a snapshot of my old boyfriend. Or
the anonymous suburban landscape of upstate in a way that defies the
spectacular images we’re addicted to. Or… how women use our bodies to display
who we believe we should be, Or…
Novel? No, I don’t have the endurance any more. To write a novel, you have to
be like Atlas, holding up the whole world on your shoulders, and supporting it
there for months and years, while its affairs
work themselves out…”
M. Coetzee, Diary of a Bad Year.
hopefully I will carry on, and develop it, because it is worthwhile. carry on
because it matters when other things don’t seem to matter so much: the money
job, the editorial assignment, the fashion shoot. Then one day it will be
complete enough to believe it is finished. Made. Existing. Done. And in its own
way: a contribution, and all that effort and frustration and time and money
will fall away. It was worth it, because it is something real, that didn’t
exist before you made it exist: a sentient work of art and power and
sensitivity, that speaks of this world and your fellow human beings place
within it. Isn’t that beautiful?
So far this year the St Pancras Hospital, the Hawley Arms and the National Portrait Gallery have played host to Jason Wilde's Free Portrait Studio. 167 portraits were made at those venues of 3 very different groups of people. Residents of Camden made up the bulk of the people supporting an exhibition by local artists at St Pancras Hospital while the people photographed at the Hawley Arms were mostly out-of-town or overseas visitors looking to soak up some of that fabled Camden cool. The National Portrait Gallery held a Portrait Gala and invited a number of very wealthy people (including royalty), some of whom were charmed into parting with their cash to raise money for gallery acquisitions. The images from those events can be seen at the following links.
Public engagement is at the core of this project and in order to encourage people to engage with the portraits I am developing a number of online elements that look beyond my own limiting project edits and the restrictions of a printed book or exhibition. It's early days but so far I've come up with a Guest Picture Editor competition and 3 website sections named Collections, Mistakes & Out-takes and Portraits At Home.
Guest Picture Editor competition
The Guest Picture Editor competition invites people to create their own mini picture edits of between 2 and 10 portraits from Jason Wilde's Free Portrait Studio's online archive. It's free to enter and the winner receives a exclusive print from the archive while all submitted edits will be featured in a mini online exhibition. More info about the current competition can be found on the information blog here while all previous submitted guest picture edits can be found on the online image archive here.
The Collections section is a way to look beyond my idea of what portraits to include in a final edit and to playfully group images according to any number of unifying elements. So far these elements have included Pets, Beards, Flowers and Topless etc. I would love it if people became involved and suggested by email their own ideas for a collection. A collection can be up to 300 images and all suggested collections will be displayed on the online image archive along with the name of the person that realised that collection. All previous Collections can be found on the online image archive here.
Mistakes and Out-Takes
Over the last four years there have been 43 Free Portrait Studio mobile events in a variety of venues. Wherever the mobile studio is set up the main aim is to photograph as many participants as possible in the allotted time and, although the goal is to make ‘serious’ documentary portraits, there’s always room for people to make mischief and have a little fun. The Mistakes and Out-Takes section has been set up specifically to exhibit these more lighthearted aspects of the project. The Mistakes and Out-Takes section can be seen here.
Portraits At Home: Attention all previous participants
Portraits at Home is a mini project that simply asks participants who have received a print to send me a photo of that print. The idea is to create a online photo gallery of participants Free Portrait Studio portraits at home. An extensive Portrait At Home section will also greatly strengthen any future Arts Council funding application for the project.
Have any of you kept your portrait from the project? Is it (un)framed and hanging on a wall or placed on a shelf? Wherever it is can you please email a photo of your portrait on display? A simple camera phone snapshot will suffice. I've dedicated a section on my blog called Portraits At Home and so far 14 people have sent an image of their portrait at home, which can be seen here.
As part of the editing process I have begun to create a single image from two separate portraits. At its most basic level this project is a simple description and record of some of the people that were in Camden between 2010 and 2013. The ongoing nature of the project combined with the amount and variety of portraits already made means that I have many possibilities when it comes to editing the work. Creative editing means the portraits can constantly be reconfigured, with different images played against different images, to expand the meanings of the portraits. In this section I have combined individual portraits from the project into single images that play with these ‘pictorial narratives’. At the moment the images in this section are ‘playful experiments’ to see how/if the images work together.
Jason Wilde's Free Portrait Studio online
For those of you that are new to the project, Jason Wilde's Free Portrait Studio is supported by a blog and an online image archive. The blog is an information hub and features regularly updated project related information and posts about the project while the online image archive exhibits a portrait of each person that has taken part in the project.
Jason Wilde's Free Portrait Studio Mobile Events 2014
Last night the National Portrait Gallery hosted their Portrait Gala and invited Jason Wilde’s Free Portrait Studio along to capture some of the faces that made up the charitable crowd.
In the illustrious setting of the 20th Century Gallery, and under the watchful eyes of long gone luminaries, 45 people gave me their trust and became part of my expanding visual history.
The portrait archive now stands at 1680 portraits.
Many thanks to Maddie Gibson, Senior Events and Gala Manager, for accommodating my mobile gallery and for allowing me to participate in a special night.
And many thanks to the John Kobal foundation, and their Chairman Simon Crocker, for sponsoring Jason Wilde’s Free Portrait Studio at the National Portrait Gallery.
It's inevitable that at times I question the validity of the project and its continuation but last night any doubts were vaporised by peoples enthusiasm for the work and their willingness to take part. The participants reactions to their portraits and the non-particpants project feedback were definite votes in the yes camp to keep going.
A portrait of each person made on the night can be seen here.
Jason Wilde's Free Portrait Studio Mobile Events 2014 The National Portrait Gallery has invited Jason Wilde's Free Portrait Studio to their 'Portrait Gala' on Tuesday 11th February. This major fundraising event will directly support the National Portrait Gallery's daily work of delivering inspirational exhibitions and displays, offering unique learning opportunities and undertaking world-class research. Unfortunately the evening is invitation only so this is not an open invite to attend. Here's what on the invite.....................
CHAMPAGNE AND CANAPE RECEPTION
DINNER IN THE 16TH, 17TH, AND 18TH CENTURY GALLERIES
AFTER DINNER ENTERTAINMENT
Private view of Bailey's Stardust
Music and Artistic Entertainment
Mystery Portrait Postcard and Pen Portraits Sales
Raffle and Live Auction
Black tie with a touch of sparkle
My Free Portrait Studio will be running throughout the evening and is the only freebie available to the invitees, so Im hoping for a busy night.