As a photographer, I have always enjoyed taking portraits of people in a photojournalistic manner. For me, this means not just having someone pose with a forced smile staring directly into the lens, but building trust in a short amount of time so I can capture their laughter, their relaxed demeanour, and their true selves.
“The Untitled Chair Project”, is my latest endeavour in portrait photography from a more artistic and meaningful point of view. My inspiration is a red chair and my best friend, Doug, who lost his battle with leukaemia in 1996. My goal with this project is to raise awareness about the need for registered bone marrow donors, one unique portrait at a time.
When I first came up with this idea for a portrait series, I wanted to have an element in all the photos that would have a visual continuity that people could also interact with. Red stands out because of its brightness and the object is a chair, an everyday object that most of the planet utilises.
For these portraits, there is nothing formal or traditional about these sessions. The chair is red because this is a colour that automatically stands out. For the people who volunteer to be photographed, it is on the condition that they do the following:
1. First and foremost, I want them to interact (or not interact) with the chair however they wish. This has made for some interesting photos and unexpected poses. Because of this, no two portrait sessions are the same.
2. The second thing I ask of people is that they not look directly at the camera. If the person is not looking at me, but they are looking elsewhere, they tend to act more natural. This also frees them up to be more creative for their photos.
3. Lastly, because the whole goal of the project is to raise awareness about bone marrow donation, they must sign the chair. Their signature represents a promise to share the project with others. It is this last item that is the most important.
With every photo that is shared with others through social media, I have seen the project gradually spread to other countries. When I photograph someone from Europe, North America, or the Gulf region, they in turn share it with their network of family and friends. This has allowed me to reach out to people in a way that I would never have dreamed.
When people write to me to tell me that because of the project, they’ve been inspired to become registered bone marrow donors, my heart fills up. I have had people share their excitement about the project and their curiosity, as they often ask when I will be travelling to their country and if I could photograph them. All of this makes me strive that much more to continue with this series and explore the idea of taking the chair on tour.
There is no end date for the project and anyone is invited to participate. I will be speaking about it at the next Gulf Photo Slidefest IX in Dubai on January 30th, which is open to the public. There are things we can all do in this world to help out one another. I’m hoping the project inspires people to discuss, share and become informed about becoming a registered bone marrow donor.
The Untitled Chair Project can be viewed in its entirety at www.theuntitledchairproject.blogspot.com.
This reader is based in Abu Dhabi.
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