It’s Out Of Our Hands // People On Their Own

In preparation for their double-bill, Timber & Battery have made the following film:

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In preparation for his double-bill, Gareth Cutter has written the following text:

Look for the people on their own.

There’s an old man over there, sitting on a park bench, reading a newspaper. You can see he’s got his crutches crossed over each other, laid neatly beside him – he might be good?

Or how about that young woman, the one with long, shoulder-length hair? She has this pensive look on her face, brow furrowed over some question in her head, smoking a cigarette and watching the silver ribbons curl into nothing…She looks promising but then, those types of people are often a let-down; when you get to the moment of truth, they baulk.

So, you keep on looking. Middle-aged Asian American woman getting off the bus? Gawky caucasian teenager in ratty black t-shirt and cargo shorts, skateboard tucked under his arm? Any of these people could work, potentially.

You learn pretty quickly that there is no single right way to do this, but there definitely is a wrong way. The main thing? Never approach from behind. It sounds obvious but, trust me, I’ve made that mistake before. And while there is no single right way, there are things that will make it a lot easier. For instance:

Make eye-contact and smile. Don’t overdo it. Just be yourself.

People can sense if you’re nervous, and that will make them nervous too, so act like what you’re doing is the most natural and unremarkable thing in the world.

If you’re really tall, it helps to sort of stoop a little bit, and lean your head to one side, so you look less tall, less threatening.

It helps if you have quite a high voice too. If yours is really deep, lighten it – make it breezy.

Look for the people on their own, like that old man, or the smoking woman. I’ve been doing this for five years. People won’t go for it if their best friend, wife or whatever is stood next to them. They get cagey. There’s still good material to be had sometimes, but not the really juicy stuff. They’re much, much likelier to say ‘yes’ if they’re on their own, which is paradoxical in some ways: not sharing their deepest, darkest secrets and fears in front of those closest to them, but sharing them to a stranger, me, even when they know an online community of 16 million people might also be reading what they have to say, seeing their face.

Your job is to get them to relax. Approach them from the front, stooped to one side and smiling. The camera’s in your bag. If people see it straight away, they’ll jump to conclusions. So, it starts with eye-contact, a smile, and an invitation:

“Excuse me? Do you mind if I take your photograph?”

Gareth Cutter and Timber & Battery perform at Chisenhale Dance Space on Friday 26th May at 7:30pm. Get tickets here.