A Story Behind A Photograph by Cameron Paterson

On Photography

This photograph is from a series I have made called One Man Tells Tale and Other Parts. 

The project explores and critics the genre of documentary including the exploitation of subjects, and the misrepresentation of events. Using self-portraits to embody different characters that a figurative documentary photographer might take, I have played with the associated authenticity of the aesthetics of documentary imagery. 

The idea behind this particular photograph in the series is a documentary photographer finding an anonymous caravan park. Taking a walk through, they could pass many average-looking people and not consider them for a photograph, and then they would see this highly stereotypical character and think to themselves, “Wow this is perfect. This is exactly what I’m after”. Then, almost subconsciously, the photographer would start to make framing decisions and directing the encounter, putting to use the power dynamic caused by the presence of the camera. By bringing their own preconceived ideas to the location, they are not able to separate themselves from the event and therefore introduce a plethora of subjectivity. 

I found this caravan park on the coast in the North East of England, not far from where I grew up..I had originally photographed it from afar for a different project and upon examining the original image, I realised that the side of the park was publicly open to the beach, only bordered by sand dunes for privacy for the caravan owners.  

Hoping to access the park via the beach I decided to return. The idea was to spend a bit of time setting up and experimenting with my composition and then move on without being a nuisance to the residence, park owners, or other members of the public. Due to my new appearance, and the bulky kit I was using (Rz67, tripod, flash, and timer), I was breaking all the rules of street photography, such as wearing plain clothes to avoid suspicion and remain inconspicuous. 

About halfway through the shoot, my assistant noticed a truck approaching, and the driver was seriously assessing the situation. The truck pulled up a few meters away, the driver rolled down the window and called us over. He stated that he was security and said that unless we own a caravan in the park, we were trespassing. Now the driver was closer, I could see how perplexed at the situation he was. He then asked us what we were doing. I calmly replied that I was a final-year photography student doing some work around playing a few different characters in a series of images. I think he was more perplexed and amused at my appearance than anything really.  He then allowed us 15 minutes to finish up and clear off. So, I finished off my shoot, laughing all the time with my assistant at how ridiculous I must have looked and sounded. 

Many, if not all, photographers worry about confrontation whilst photographing, and from this experience, I have learned that sometimes it is okay to look and sound silly with your excuses for being where you are, sometimes that is all that is needed. I would like to give my gratitude to the security guard who did a great job for the park, and who was extremely respectful towards me and my assistant. 

I have self-published One Man Tells Tale and Other Parts into a zine, where the viewer follows the figurative documentary photographer’s voice throughout. I make use of handwritten anecdotes and subjective decisions on sequencing to make a narrative of encounters with 4 different people that they meet. 

- Cameron Paterson