I spoke to professional photographer Mishka Henner today on the phone, I briefly explained my project and how I had seen examples of his approach to photographing communities on his website with Liz Lock.
Mishka advised me to find a link within the Mustard Tree charity, such as a co-ordinator or a leader to get to know the charity and homeless people. Finding a person of trust who has already built strong relationships allows your subject to feel more comfortable in your presence.
Mishka explained that there is a delicate balance between doing your work and working for the organisation. He said that everyone has an agenda and in his experience he has often done an exchange, where he may end up giving his subjects their own personal photograph as a keepsake.
“Once you get in there with the organisation people may refer you to speak to someone else who has a story to tell, or someone who talks a lot.”
Mishka said he was once working with people who had mental health problems and the artist who worked there was delighted someone was interested in working with him. Mishka was then able to set the briefs and finally captured photographic portraits.
I told Mishka that Mustard Tree did art and craft classes on a Wednesday afternoon and he strongly suggested using this as an opportunity to build relationships with the homeless people and that there could be something interesting in their expressional art along side portraits.
Mishka said it was all about making your own journey through the project. He said he often came across personal doubt as to why he was studying something but that often became very much a part of the project.
“Be aware of your own reactions and barriers you cross. The subject will be just as suspicious of you. There is no right way of doing a project like this. All you can do is get in there, meet people and document the experience.”
I was advised to watch an 80s film called Driving me Crazy by Nick Broomfield. It was a documentary about the making of the musical Fame in New York, however, it turned out to be more about the making of the documentary. This demonstrates how effective it can be to record your own personal journey throughout a project as well focusing on the subject.