During my stint as Artist in Residence for the Wigtown Book Festival, I found myself reflecting on the fact it often feels I’m part photographer, part psychotherapist.
When upward of 90% of people use the opening line, “I hate having my photo taken…” the majority of my time is spent not using the camera, but reassuring, explaining and trying to build a sense of connection and trust with the person in front of me.
So when I encounter a rare individual who is perfectly comfortable in front of the lens right from the start, it’s a pure delight – especially when they are then up for playing.
One such person I discovered during the festival was Peggy.
When I photographed her for the wall of The Hut I was immediately struck by her appearance. With short dark hair, and large rimmed glasses she had an almost iconic look, and when I converted the image to black and white, I was reminded of a kind of 1950s Beatnik style.
Of course one of the things about having such a striking outward style, is people will fix on it as the key identifying trait. So if Peggy was to remove her glasses and change her hairstyle, the chances are she could walk right past most people who know her and they wouldn’t even realise it was her.
With my love of faces, I found myself wanting to photograph her without her glasses. She was up for the idea, but we didn’t then get the chance until the very last evening of the Festival. By then it was dark and the only available light was on the stairs, and that wasn’t particularly great. However, black and white gives more options under these circumstances, so I felt it was still worth going for.
What’s great about Peggy from my point of view is she instantly understood photography is all about storytelling. So no need to be shy in front of the camera – rather it was a chance to play. She fished out some bright red lipstick and between us we came up with the idea of having it smeared, but with an unapologetic, even aggressive expression.
Within a few short minutes we’d created another almost iconic image.
Peggy is also the Programme Director of the West Port Book Festival in Edinburgh, which this year is happening from the 13th to 16th of October.
Visit www.westportbookfestival.org for more information, and if you go along and bump into Peggy, do say hello to her from me.