217 days in a row – how did you keep yourself motivated going into the streets every day to find your subject?
I’ve started photographing in November, the time when the days are short in Berlin, when just after lunch it gets already dark. The aim to photograph one person in a day was a perfect plan that helped me not to get crazy and to have the reason to get out of the apartment during the bright time of the day. I love to meet new people, I love to observe, I love to take pictures – all of that was quite limited during this forced imprisonment. So in the beginning, the project was a salvation, then I felt a bit imprisoned by self-created obligations to photograph every single day. I broke this rule for several days, but then it appeared that days without taking pictures were even worse. Then several magical moments happened during the project and somehow the project became part of regular things, like brushing my teeth, every day I would photograph, go to the photolab, scan negatives and make posts on instagram. I think it is really interesting to see the person fitting into the landscape around them.
Did you look out for both, when you “chose” the people?
First I was looking for the person and on a way to ask a person about the picture, I was analyzing the surroundings and finding a solution for the background. If there was nothing, we would walk a couple of buildings further to find something suitable.
What motivated you to ask a person for their portrait? Were you looking for something particular?
Mostly it was people about whom I wanted to know more, the ones who inspired me by their appearance. I was cycling around Berlin on my bike looking for the heroes. And I created a rule for myself, if after passing a person his portrait somehow keeps in my mind dominating other images, I should definitely turn around and come back to ask about the portrait.
Your project was supposed to last this one month of the lockdown, which lasted 7 month in the end. Was your last picture taken on the final day of the lockdown?
Yeah, the last picture of the Strangers project, self-portrait, was done on the last day of the lockdown in Berlin. I love to photograph people and work on several other projects now, but not in the form of this exact project.
That’s interesting. Can you tell me a bit more about the self-portrait? Where did you take it? Was the process a good ending to your project?
Yeah, I’ve decided to make it cause basically I was the Stranger for other people, who I photographed. And I’ve decided that it would be a fair and perfect ending for the story. We’ve been walking with my friend around Kreuzberg, I’ve spotted a nice wall near Hallesches Tor and the last portrait was done. It feels like every portrait depicts a general, but still unique atmosphere of
the city. Maybe even a collective mood.
During this time, did you observe shifts in the general mood of the citizens of Berlin?
Some days were, yes, quite unlucky – the worst one was when six people in a row told me that they didn’t want to be photographed. But then just near the place where I live the beautiful stranger, Friedhelm was spotted. In general, it was quite a common feeling that people felt lonely and were happy to speak with a stranger and share some stories and feelings.
You think that days like that are connected maybe with bad news of Corona or you think it was completely random?
I could be whatever, starting from me and hormonal balance at that exact day to the mercury phase or yes, new corona regulations. It could be analyzed and it could be interesting to find connections.
Do you remember specific encounters that make some photos special for you?
Every day I was saying to friends – you will never believe who I photographed today. All the people and their stories were truly amazing. The most memorable maybe two stories. The homeless man who always reads books at a bus stop in Kreuzberg and a grandpa from a Christian community who gifted me an English-german dictionary.
You used an analogue technique, which only allowed you to take a small amount of pictures. How did it affect the process? Why did you choose to photograph on film?
Actually, a medium format film camera was a great helper to make people feel comfortable and interested in my project. The camera is an old-school one. It looks like a huge, intriguing brick. There were times when people were saying no, then I showed my camera and they were somehow changing their mind. One of the aims of working with this particular one for me was the idea to make the whole process super fast, I would say automatically. Now I load the film with closed eyes in a second. Quality-wise it is not comparable to any digital cameras, it gives you the feeling of the presence with the deep natural look.
More images from Strangers series / https://www.tanyasharapova.com /
Conversation and image selection: Jana Rothe / http://www.janarothe.com