People I Don’t Know In Photographs I Took of Something Else

In 2002 I published an artist book called “People I Don’t Know in Photographs I took of Something Else’. This project was first exhibited as a photo series of 100’s of small colour photographic portraits, then in larger format and fewer number at The Australian Centre for Photography Sydney. The direction of the subject’s gaze determined where I positioned them on the gallery wall – the idea was that as a viewer walked around the gallery space the tiny portraits would collectively turn until they met the viewer’s gaze, then turn away.

Here’s an excerpt from the book:
“During the last few years I have spent long periods in the darkroom retracing my archive of 35mm colour negatives.
I began looking more and more closely at the thousands of orange-brown rectangles of places through which I’d travelled, at the traces of friends and family and homes and pets and landmarks and objects whose outlines I recognised. These are the kinds of images that end up as photographs sweating under plastic in cheap albums and piling up in boxes smelling of camphor, but are amongst the first things to be saved if the house is burning down.
I wanted to ignore the initial reasons I took the photograph – to disregard its subject and study the random background details of each image in isolation – to consider the world that was going on almost in spite of the photograph.
In the darkroom the negatives were often enlarged so much they filled the room with information. Faced with this profusion of light and colour and little meaning, I began to pursue and isolate those fragmented patterns which held a suggestion of what I came to think of as human ephemera: people I didn’t know and hadn’t consciously noticed before, passing through the backgrounds of the hundreds of photographs I’d taken over the years.
The more of these discoveries I rendered, the more forceful the direction of their individual and collective watch became (so many small shocks when I encountered someone looking straight at me taking their photograph without my knowing). I had only to follow the direction of their cumulative gaze — turn, look, turn away —and they were forming a series of images with its own internal rhythm and predetermined order.
The portraits of this book are records of transient accidental encounters of which I have no memory — an experience potentially shared by anyone who has ever taken a picture — and are a small selection of this ongoing venture. They continue to rearrange themselves as their number grows. I envisage a day when the movement between each will be barely detectable and they will turn and look and turn away like single frames of a continuous film.”

E.Richards May 2002

ISBN 0 646 40152 1
limited edition (1000) artist book
with a written contribution by photo media artist Merilyn Fairskye