Today I started a photo project in a community of English Gypsies in a town near Manchester. They are lovely people and I was made to feel extremely welcome, but all day I felt a familiar feeling – ill at ease and, despite the fact I have a abstract idea of what I’d like to come out with, unsure of how I’m going to operate in practice over the coming weeks.
As I do more of this kind of photography, so I learn more about myself. I’m a slow worker and very sensitive to the feelings of the people I’m spending time with. Increasingly I think my penchant for working in a lumbering, long-term and labour intensive way is about me feeling uncomfortable in my skin. It’s as much about getting over the feeling that I’m intruding or ‘taking’ something from the people I’m photographing as it is about getting them used to me.
I wish I was someone who really could blend into the background from the start but that never seems to happen. Instead I find myself in the middle of quite in-depth and often personal conversations, even when I’m not trying to solicit information and when I’m consciously not asking too many questions. Maybe it’s just obvious that I’m a nosy parker.
I sometimes feel lots of frustration about this and worry that I should spend more time in ‘photographer mode’ but I’m now trying to come to terms with my own working methods. Instead of spending the next two months of this project worrying that I’m not doing enough, I’m going to try not to stress about it and will instead keep in mind that if I hang around for long enough and get to know people better, then the good images should emerge. I need to stop being such a worrier as I think I’m just wrapping myself into knots.
As an aside, I’m not sure how far I’ll be able to engage with the wider community which lives on this private Gypsy site. The much-hated Channel 4 show Big Fat Gyspy Weddings has, I’m told, led the Traveller community to turn on itself and many are reluctant to speak to outsiders from the media for fear they too will be misrepresented or made to look stupid. Hopefully people will learn to trust me with time.