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Photograph a Stranger



I think it all started with a new camera. Last summer ( that is the summer of 2018) I bought a Nikon d500 which replaced my Nikon d3300. And just like that my desire for photography was reborn. I was in real ‘need’ to photograph people. And harassing my friends and family was not enough. I thought that there must be a better way to get people to model for me. At one point I thought about posting in a facebook group (for models and photographers), but something didn’t feel right. Nowadays, there are plenty of reasons to avoid online groups. 

But I was still trying to figure out how to practice and get more social media content that was more consistent. 

At some point, I watched a movie on Netflix called “Julia & Julie”. I had never heard about it before, but I noticed Meryl Streep and a few other actors I like were in it so I watched it. And it mesmerized me! It was a very pleasant family movie. Apart from the story that I liked on its own, I absolutely loved what the movie was about. If you haven’t seen it – I strongly recommend it. I don’t want to spoil anything if you haven’t heard about it before, so let me just tell you this – it was a huge inspiration for what I did next. 

I have the habit of watching something on Youtube in the background when I am getting ready for bed. And one night I came across a video by Jessica Kobeissi called “Photograph a Stranger” and it grabbed my attention. I thought – OMG! THIS IS IT! That is absolutely IT! BRILLIANT IDEA! That is what I want to do! This is what I WILL do!

I started planning the entire thing. Some of the questions that I was asking myself were: Can I publish photographs of random people? How can I ask strangers to photograph them? What will the pictures look like? Will they be any good? I was looking for answers online and apparently, you can take a photograph of a person in public without their permission and post it online, BUT I didn’t want to risk it. I hate confrontation and not only will it be very unpleasant, but it would also probably end my project. 

I am a very shy person so one of my biggest challenges is approaching people. I thought this project would be a fantastic exercise to overcome the fear of talking to strangers. English is not my first language and even though I graduated a university in the UK I am frequently making silly mistakes. This makes me nervous talking to strangers or in front of a large crowd.

Finally, my last motivation was a desire for exposure. I thought that if I come across so many people I will give away some of my business cards and people will start following me on social media. Eventually, they will get in touch & book a session with me. 

WHY 365?

Most photographers doing the “Photograph a Stranger” project only capture 100 people. But I knew that if I start doing that project I will photograph 100 people in no time. So after watching the movie “Julia & Julie” the idea of having something ongoing for a year was simply ‘cool’ and I wanted a task, that will keep me focused for a longer period. I honestly couldn’t imagine myself going for a whole year but now that I finally completed the project I am extremely happy I did it. 


Anyone! I was focusing on people 18+ ( I did not want to deal with complications in case someone was a minor). There were days I was walking around for ages (that’s how it felt at least), passing street after street and not being able to ask anyone. Sometimes I would make eye contact with someone and I would just get this feeling that they will be happy to do it. Once I took that first photo it was much easier to ask the next person. After I photographed a few people in a row, I felt more confident and I was excited to ask even more people. 


Realistically I knew from the start that I will not be able to go out in the city to take pictures every day. Think about it. A YEAR of photos! Holidays, celebrations, events, getaways, days with the family, other projects, other photoshoots, another editing bonanza… and so on. In my opinion, it was impossible to do it that way. Ok. Maybe not that it was impossible, but knowing myself – it was impossible for me. 

The very first time I asked to photograph strangers was on my way home from another photoshoot. I asked several people that night, so I could be prepared in advance for at least a week. I was actually scared of taking a break. My biggest fear was that something will happen and I won’t be able to finish my project. Fortunately, that didn’t happen. The first few times I was taking only a few photos to cover myself for a week. My daughter takes guitar lessons on Saturday mornings in the city center and this is when I was working on my project. After a while, I started traveling to the city on different occasions and I managed to get even more pictures done. At one point I was covered for almost 3 weeks! That was a great feeling! Amazing actually! I felt secured. I knew that I won’t run out of photos. After that, I started going only once a month. I would walk around the city for an hour or two and I would come home with around 30 days worth of pictures. 


I know that it would look much more interesting if I posed them. But I thought candid photos would be the best way to capture everyone’s real emotions. Also, the idea of posing complete strangers that probably don’t even feel really comfortable having their picture taken by another complete stranger… I didn’t see it happening. I wanted consistency in my project and this would have made it very hard for me. 


Not many! I would say that 2 out of 10 people said “No”. They didn’t have to even always give a reason, it was rather clear. Some blushed immediately at the thought of having their photograph taken. Some were in a rush (although I was trying to avoid those). Some people were completely confused about the project so they declined. Others weren’t sure what I meant by ‘Stranger’, and I could see them worry about being targeted for their ethnicity. I even had local people were telling me “you are a bigger stranger than me”. Although rare I had strangers look at me like “How dare you even talk to me”. Before I began this project I was prepared for people to say “No” so when it happened I was not discouraged. 


“Hi, excuse me. My name is Gosia and I am working on a project called ” Photograph a Stranger”. Is it ok if I take a quick photo of you?” I was introducing myself as Margaret at first but then I changed it to Gosia 

(which is a nickname for Margaret in polish and is a bit shorter). It still felt like my opening line was too long. People very rarely listened until the end…instead, they were just simply shaking their heads /saying no and passing through. Some even thought I was trying to sell them something. Thankfully my short, introduction and explanation of what I was doing worked most of the time. I tried to fit as much information into one sentence as I could so I can say it before they lose interest. 


I was expecting to challenge and test myself and to feel the satisfaction of completing a big project such as this one. I was hoping to gain some popularity as well but unfortunately, that did not happen.


Satisfied. Relieved. Happy. I feel like I can do anything I set my mind to! 


Yes! I feel like I can do anything. I gained confidence! 


Malgorzata Pomietlo of MKC Photography is based in the UK
To see more of her beautiful work visit

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