Taking photos is a lot like doing oral history work. It's a collaborative portrait of someone--a careful negotiation of representation between the portraitist (or photographer/interviewer) and the subject (or interviewee). As I refine my hobby of portrait photography, I have been looking to established artists for guidance and inspiration.
Today I came across local (Brooklynite) photographer Brian Edward Berman's photo project, Safety in Numbers. In it he snaps portraits of people indulging in their favorite hobbies--whether it's taxidermy, freestyle dog dancing competitions, or collecting vintage vacuum cleaners. At first a project exploring interesting subcultures, Safety in Numbers evolved into a meditation on the notion of belonging. I have always had a fascination with American subcultures. I think in a nation that bases its fundamental identity on the idea of individualism, subculture-ism is a natural step into promoting that identity. In other words, subcultures are American as apple pie.
I love Berman's photographs but I have yet to determine whether I think he is honoring his subjects' image or ridiculing them. I think though that there can be humor without ridicule in photographic representation. The hobbies Berman depicts are often lighthearted and sweet--and hobbies in general are about fun. What do you think?