Storytelling can be applied to all sorts of creative disciplines, and photography can be an incredibly effective way to tell the story of an object, place, moment in time, or person.
We caught up with London-based journalist and photographer Matt Hussey, who is on a quest to photograph and share a portrait every day (give or take a few days), to find out more about his Portrait Project 365 – a project combining photography with storytelling…
Hi Matt. Tell us a bit about why you started Portrait Project 365?
About seven years ago I had my first foray into photography and loved it. But I couldn’t make it work financially and so had to give it up. I was chatting with a PR friend of mine last year who looks after Leica and they brought out this beautiful new camera called the Q.
After falling in love with it I was absolutely hooked, but I needed a pretty major reason for spending that much money on a camera. I knew I loved portraits, so I came up with an idiotically ambitious idea: to take a portrait a day for a whole year.
I haven’t quite stuck to that but having a fixed goal and premise has kept me going for close to 12 months now. I’m on 126 portraits at the time of writing, with six more yet to publish.
What have you learnt along the way?
I’d say probably the biggest thing was empathy. Every person who comes and sits for me I ask them the deceptively simple question, “tell me a bit about yourself.” How much or little they say, the subjects they touch on or don’t and the language they use all say volumes about a person’s character.
The vast majority of people I have photographed I have never met, but as the project has gone on, I’ve wanted to try and encapsulate someone’s entire life in a portrait without being overly simplistic or crass.
So that requires me to try and understand what it’s like to walk in the other person’s shoes. It’s definitely not sympathy, pitying a person I’ve learned creates images that can feel detached and make a subject seem totally alone in front of the lens.
Most of the time I’ll only have 20 minutes to get that. So that initial conversation, that “tell me a bit about yourself” is so vital to understanding the portrait and taking a picture of someone they recognise.
What have you found most challenging?
Trying to do someone justice for volunteering both themselves and their story. In the early days I just came up with an idea and then tried to squeeze the person through that, which often times lead people to say, “that’s not me.” A much better photographer than myself said of portraits, “It is an illusion that photos are made with the camera… they are made with the eye, heart and head.” I think that’s really true. It’s not about the equipment, the lighting or the colours – although they certainly help – my best work has only come when I’m totally engaged with the subject. That we’re vulnerable together. I often feel quite drained after shooting four or five people in a day. Trying to give yourself to each one – so hopefully they give themselves back – is a real challenge.
What has been your most memorable portrait shoot so far?
I’d probably say my family. We went through a lot over the past 10 years, at times we haven’t spoken and there were times when we didn’t know each other. Then this summer my brother with his girlfriend and new born son came over from Australia to spend the weekend with my dad, stepmum, my sister and her two girls. It was probably the first time we’d all been in the same place in nearly a decade. That in itself was significant, but also me having the opportunity to capture that moment on camera and hopefully start a new chapter in our family history was very important for me.
You can follow the project on tumblr and Instagram, and if you’d like to be part of Portrait Project 365 then you can contact Matt through his Facebook page – he’s always on the hunt for new people to shoot.
Finally, here’s a portrait of Matt – we think it’s only fair that we share a picture of the man behind the pictures and words, too.