Taking the perfect photograph
It’s not easy taking photos of complete strangers.
First you have to get their attention, then you have to get them to agree to be photographed.
Oleira Whitfield and 68 other students in the Bermuda National Gallery’s I AM Beautiful project managed it last month in Kings Square in St George.
“It wasn’t easy,” said Oleira, 14. “I felt really nervous the first time I had to approach someone and not everybody said yes. We’d go up to people and ask to take their photo. Some said they didn’t want to, but then we’d give them a sticker that said they were beautiful and they would say thank you and smile.”
The project, a collaboration between the BNG’s Youth Camera Action summer camp and the St George’s Community Centre, was designed to raise community spirit and improve photography and communication skills among the campers.
“Sometimes you see people walking with their heads down,” BNG education and communications officer Dany Pen said.
“You don’t know how their day has been. All you need to say is you’re beautiful and it just brightens up their day.”
She said taking the photo not only validated the portrait sitter, but also the young photographer.
“It boosts their self esteem to know they were able to approach someone and put a smile on their face,” she said. “The end result is everyone is walking with a smile.”
Yesterday, 70 I AM Beautiful photos, taken with cameras and iPads, went on display outside Somers Garden on York Street in St George.
“This was the first year we’ve done this project,” Ms Pen said. “We had hundreds of photos by the end of it, so we really had to choose which ones we would use.”
Oleira said all their photo subjects really were beautiful.
“What makes someone beautiful is their personality, inside and outside,” she said. “It’s not just about how they look, but about how they treat people.”
Students were carefully taught how to take a flattering photo and were asked to show it to their photo subject, to get their consent.
“It’s the lighting that determines if the photo looks good,” Oleira explained.
“You need lots of light.”
Campers took photos of a wide range of people: young and old, visitors and locals, men and women.
“They approached a lot of the men who were working in the gardens or the parks,” Ms Pen said.
She said the men would often be sweaty or covered in paint, but were thrilled to be asked for their photograph.
“The men would say: ‘who, me? Of course, you can take my photo!’” Ms Pen laughed.
She said one particularly memorable subject was a well-dressed 99-year-old lady found sunning herself in Kings Square.
Campers said to her: “Excuse me, we’re doing a project on beautiful people, can we take your photo?”
The woman told them that no one had ever called her beautiful before.
“Our campers just couldn’t believe that,” Ms Pen said.
“They said: are you serious? Then she told them a bit about her life. She said when she was younger, she didn’t have much time for herself because she was busy helping to raise her younger siblings.”
Ms Pen said the project actually sprang from a game students used to play at the BNG camp.
“They studied portraiture,” she said. “Then they’d go out into the community as a group, surround someone and make them feel incredibly popular. The people would get this smile, and get so happy and excited.”
Ms Pen said, by coincidence, most of the students involved in I AM Beautiful were from the East End.
“We did this right before Cup Match so community pride was strong,” she said.
Oleira, has been part of BNG’s photography camp four years in a row. Initially, her mother made her go.
“At first I didn’t want to go,” she said. “I thought it would be boring.”
She fell in love with photography on the first day, and really liked taking part in the I AM Beautiful project this year.
When she first went she’d never even used a camera and no one in her house had one.
“I thought all you had to do was one thing to get a photo,” she said. “I quickly learnt that wasn’t the case. It took me a little while to understand the camera.”
The camp is for students 11 to 14, so this is Oleira’s last year as a camper.
“I want to become a camp counsellor next year,” she said.
Ms Pen said the BNG is definitely looking at continuing the I AM Beautiful project next year.