In the 19th century, photographers used large format cameras with glass slides coated with a light sensitive solution to capture an image. There were no light meters and exposure times could be several minutes, so sitters had to keep very still or their photograph would be blurry. The most common size of camera produced a negative slide measuring 4 x 5 ins (10 x 13 cm). Many photographers today consider the images produced from a 4 x 5 view camera to be unsurpassed in their detail and beauty.
Perrier set up a mobile studio in Peckham Square and photographed passers by with a large format camera, headrest and black and white Polaroid film.
“I think part of the fascination with the general public is having the experience of something different; of being photographed with a large format camera and the headrest. This apparatus makes the experience not so straightforward somehow,” Perrier says. “This way of working is not just about documentation but a performance, which takes place in a public space. I believe the sitter will remember such an experience, since any one of us can be photographed with a digital camera in a high-street studio.
Perrier chatted to potential sitters about the process and her intentions. She says:
“I do feel like there is an exchange taking place between the subject and myself. When I speak of collaboration between the subject and me what I mean is that there is a cooperation which takes place for the work to be created. The main reason being that I am present in a public space, I don’t know who will turn up and will agree to be photographed. Those who I take pictures of have chosen to be part of the project. I am not selling them a service.
I explain to my subjects what I am doing and why it is taking place. I try to explain the contract which they as sitters are entering into. They have the choice to be photographed or not; if they agree to sit, they have their portrait taken. There is no charge for this and they receive a 6×4 print of their portrait. My finished works are then displayed in the gallery. I also advise them that it could be used to promote my work in the future and they sign a model release form giving me permission to use the image created for future endeavours.”
The resulting black and white portraits are simple, full of empathy and fascinating. They were shown inside and outside the gallery space.
Year 10 pupils at Harris Academy Peckham participated in photography workshops with Perrier and took images during classroom sessions, using family photographs and personal photo albums as discussion points.
To accompany the exhibition, Autograph ABP – the organisation that campaigns for the inclusion of historically marginalised photographic practices – produced a limited edition newspaper to document the project and the work by pupils at Harris Academy, for publication during the Frieze Art Fair in October 2014.
Artist quotes from a published interview with Qiana Mestrich for Dodge & Burn, October 2014.
Read the full interview.