By Jessica Stewart on May 2, 2022
“After every single encounter, I’d leave full of positivity and usually having just learned something new as well.”
Like many of us, filmmaker and photographer Rory Langdon-Down found his life altered by the pandemic. With almost all of his shoots canceled, he suddenly found himself with a lot of time on his hands. But luckily, from this difficulty, a new creative project was born. Portrait a Day is the British photographer’s way to grapple with this newfound free time. And, in the process, Langdon-Down found himself pushing his creative skills to new heights.
For the entirety of 2021, Langdon-Down photographed a different stranger each day. That means 365 days of getting out and making conversation with people he’d never met, all in an effort to take their portrait. Every portrait was published on Instagram, accompanied by a short paragraph detailing what Langdon-Down had learned about his subject during their encounter.
The result is not only the story of a strange year in history but a look at one creative’s attempt to thrive in difficult circumstances. A chronological look at the photographs allows us to see how Langdon-Down’s confidence as a portrait photographer grows over the course of a year, all because he challenged himself. But Portrait a Day isn’t just an Instagram feed. Langdon-Down has also published a beautiful coffee table book with these portraits.
Limited to, appropriately, 365 copies, Portrait a Day not only contains all of the portraits, but over 40,000 words detailing the stories of the people featured. This personal labor of love has also been well received by the photography community, with one of the portraits winning the British Journal of Photography’s Portrait of Humanity 2022.
We had a chance to speak with Langdon-Down about how the project got started, the challenges he faced, and what he hopes that people take away from the work. Read on for My Modern Met’s exclusive interview.
Do you feel like COVID was a blessing in disguise just in terms of pushing you to find new creative outlets?
With the benefit of hindsight, I’d say yes. At the time, losing work due to shoots not being able to go ahead during the lockdowns was pretty tough and I found my sudden lack of purpose by not having work to be quite challenging. I never really stopped creating during the pandemic though, and I think my personal projects massively helped advance my own style and approach to taking photos. Portrait A Day wouldn’t have happened without the pandemic, and the positive effect of that project and the book’s success on me has been incredible, so now I’d definitely count it as a blessing.
Why did you decide, of all the themes, to photograph strangers?
The challenge appealed to me first of all: one photo of a person every day for a year. That clear objective felt achievable when I outlined it before starting the project, probably in part because I had hardly ever shot strangers’ portraits before, so I didn’t see the challenges that lay ahead.
People have always interested me and I am a firm believer that everyone has an interesting story and this felt like a really good way of proving that whilst telling the year’s narrative through these little windows into the lives of the people who surround us every day. For me personally, I knew that this would help my interpersonal skills and elevate my own abilities as a director and documentary-maker, which is what I do when I’m not pointing a camera in the faces of strangers.[…]
Continue reading: Photographer Spends a Full Year Taking Portraits of Strangers[Interview]