Damien Frost is a 38 year-old graphic designer who works and lives in London. His Instagram showcases a collection of people he has photographed while walking the streets of London. He predominately chooses to photograph people he thinks stand out from the crowd. We chatted to him about his – yet to be named – project, and who knows you may be one of his subjects in the future…
Does the street project have a name? It doesn’t really have a name, I just call it “a portrait a day”, which is insanely boring, but does the job – for now. At the end of the year I would like to make a book of the daily portraits and I should probably think of a name for that.
Why did you begin to photograph people on the street? I’d always wanted to do a project like this but have always been a bit shy about approaching strangers. I’m a naturally reserved person so it can be difficult sometimes approaching people on the fly like I do, but often the more challenging it is, the more rewarding it is.
I started this “photo-a-day” project before I went home to Australia at Christmas and the photos I was taking there were kind of a celebration of what I loved about Australia, but also using strangers as a subject. Coming back to London you question why it is you’re actually leaving the beach-side warmth to come back to a cold city and I figured it’s for the people – that’s what I love about this town.
On my way back from the airport on the train I was thinking this and there was this guy with a pink guitar, big vintage headphones and sceptre sitting nearby and maybe I could turn this photo-a-day thing into a “portrait a day” project, and I’ll start with this guy, but then he got off the train. I thought what the hell and hopped off after him and asked for his photo. I’ve kind of seen it as a celebration of what I love about London – all the interesting people living here.
Funnily enough the more followers I receive on Instagram the more I feel this sense of obligation to find a picture that will be of interest as well.
How do you decide who to approach? That’s an interesting question because I’m not sure myself. It’s generally when someone “stands out” from the crowd for me visually. Of course, there are different levels of standing out from the crowd (and it depends on the crowd too) and it might be for something really subtle or for something completely flamboyant. Even though the project is not about fashion as such, I do like to find people that are inhabiting their style well (whatever that style might be). When I approach people I tell them that I’m taking photos of the more “visually interesting, colourful or stylish” people that I see around town and very loosely that is what I’m looking for.
I feel a deep sense of gratitude to everyone let me take their portrait – there’s a level of trust that I’ll use the image in a sympathetic way (and that I’m not taking the piss) and I’m humbled that they grant that.
Lately I’ve been trying to think more about the background and having that remain as minimal as possible. I like to get the person as isolated as possible which can be hard and try to create a sense of stillness or “quietness” out of the busy city streets. One thing I like about the photos is that you don’t really get a sense of the fact that I’m often being bumped as people are passing behind me and the person is maintaining an expression as if there’s no one else around and that the whole street isn’t watching them and making funny little comments which is often the reality of it.
How do people react? Have these photos led to more photo shoots or
projects? I sometimes forget that it’s a little strange to suddenly accost strangers and ask for a photo but generally people are very positive about the whole thing. There’s the occasional person who’s kind of rude and it can sometimes make me feel like a bit of a jerk for asking, but mostly people are absolutely lovely about it. It’s hard not to let it get you down if you get a few refusals in a row but I do really respect someone’s right to refuse a photograph.
I once had someone tell me afterwards that for them, letting me take their photo was such a big deal since they suffer from body dysmorphic disorder. The night I approached them was the first night they’d been out for weeks, then to be approached by someone asking for a photograph was quite significant and to say yes to that was difficult. When I sent through the photograph (I always offer to send the original high resolution image to the person) they were really pleased with it and felt it helped them in some way.
I’ve done one follow-on shoot from meeting someone randomly where we took some photos of an outfit in a studio with a view of making a print for people to buy down the track and there might be some more shoots in the pipeline but at the moment the street shots take up a lot of my free time so it’s difficult to fit other projects in.
Where can you be found? Can people approach you to appear on the
Instagram? Generally on week nights I’m loitering around Soho, I just hang about after work looking for the right shot, but on a weekend I’m usually around East London as that’s where I live. My general rule is that I can’t go back East until I have at least one photo, there are some nights where I think I might not find a photo. If I have a good photo I never really remember how difficult it was to get, I just think how wonderful it was to meet the person and for them to let me take it.So much of it is down to chance – walking down the right street at the right time, finding someone in the right mood or in the right location.
I’ve never really had anyone approach me to ask for a photo before (though weirdly I have had a couple of people ask me if I’m @harmonyhalo when I’ve asked them) and I’m not opposed to the idea, especially if they feel they would fit in with the general style of the subjects. Sometimes I like to imagine the collection as being almost anthropological but that sounds very cold and more objective than it is because I do feel a real affinity with the people I photograph even if I’m not necessarily part of their “scene” as such.
See more incredible portraits @harmonyhalo