The Swap

Phil Coomes
Picture editor

  • Published
Viktoria Sorochinski by Andrej Glusgold and Andrej Glusgold by Viktoria SorochinskiImage source, Andrej Glusgold and Viktoria Sorochinski
Image caption,
Viktoria Sorochinski (left) and Andrej Glusgold photographed each other

The Swap might sound like an idea for a late-night reality show, but is in fact a photographic project curated by Stuart Pilkington that pairs image-makers together to record portraits of each other.

Pilkington had the idea as a way to develop his own photography, though now sees his role as curator as being the creative centre of his work.

"Photographers as a breed are much more comfortable behind the lens than in front of it," he says. "So for those willing to overcome this natural reticence it is a chance to show off their skills and indeed their imagination to the wider community."

The basic idea is very simple. Once paired up they simply have to take a portrait of each other. Some use what is to hand, others construct fairly elaborate sets.

"It is meant to be a celebration of the portrait image in its many forms," adds Pilkington.

More than a year in, Pilkington imagines it could carry on for another six months or more, and at present adds a new pairing to The Swap website every few days and and hopes to publish a book of the best work next year.

Here is a small selection from the project, with comments from the photographers.

Rebecca Miller and Desiree Pfeiffer

Image source, Rebecca Miller by Desirée Pfeiffer

Rebecca Miller:

"I was very comfortable being photographed by Desiree which is strange because I generally hate having my photograph taken. I think what made it easier is that I was playing a character in an overall story so the picture was less about what I looked like and really more just a piece of the story. To me this is an interesting way to approach a portrait as I don't think we really are the component parts that make up our faces and bodies, I think we are much more than that. There was also the physical aspect of actually holding up a tree in heels which took up most of my energy so I had little time to ask questions like, 'What should I do with my hands?' or 'Is my lipstick on my teeth?'"

Image source, Rebecca Miller

Desiree Pfeiffer:

"The experience of participating in this project was painful but rewarding. Rebecca and I went to art school together and have been close friends for years. We share a similar approach and sense of aesthetics, so it was interesting to work with her and gain insight into how my subjects feel. I became acutely aware of how awkward and insecure you feel in front of the camera even when you trust someone completely. It was important to be reminded of this. The lesson was invaluable. Artists often project themselves into their work. However, it looks like a photograph I would take so to me it feels authentic; that she really captured me."

Hiroshi Watanabe and Aline Smithson

Image source, Hiroshi Watanabe by Aline Smithson

Hiroshi Watanabe:

"Each of us did what we wanted to be like with outfit and costume and the other (with camera) decided how to photograph."

Image source, Aline Smithson by Hiroshi Watanabe

Aline Smithson

"When Stuart invited me to participate, the first photographer I considered was my friend Hiroshi Watanabe. I am a devoted fan of his work and not only collect his photographs but hold them in the highest regard. Hiroshi brings a technical acuity to his images and a deep level of humanity and I knew that he would be able to capture my essence. I really am not a fan of being in front of the lens and generally try to obscure myself when I can. I had been thinking about life behind a burka, what it conceals and what it reveals, and Hiroshi was able to bring beauty and mystery to that idea through his wet darkroom techniques. We both still use film and shoot with the square format, though he uses a Hasselblad and I use a twin lens Rolleiflex. I think it was fun for each of us to witness how each other worked. Needless to say, I am thrilled with the result."

Rob Ball and Laura Pannack

Image source, Rob Ball by Laura Pannack

Rob Ball

"Laura visited to share her work with my photography students and whilst she was in town we decided to make some tintypes. Each exposure is about 10 seconds and often reveals something hidden or otherwise imperceptible."

Image source, Laura Pannack by Rob Ball

Paula McCartney and Geoffrey Nel Thomas

Image source, Paula McCartney by Geoffrey Nel Thomas

Paula McCartney

"Making a portrait, or any photograph for that matter is an excuse to look closely, to notice the details not always evident in the continuous movement of time. To concentrate on this, I often extract my subjects from the wider environment. While I made the photograph in natural light, I placed Geoffrey against a black background. His features are detailed and clear, but he doesn't exist in a specific time or place. I imagine him more in one of the many short stories he writes, rather than in the everyday world."

Image source, Geoffrey Nel Thomas by Paula McCartney

Geoffrey Nel Thomas

"My work focuses on un-scripted moments and not staged portraits, so I looked to Arnold Newman, who excelled at showing a person's character by placing them in their own environment, for ideas on how to approach creating a portrait of Paula. What binds all of Paula's work together is her interest in nature, so it was only fitting to place her in that environment. It was by chance that I found flowers which matched her dress, so she looked in confluence with her surroundings."

Lori Pond by Brandy Trigueros

Image source, Lori Pond by Brandy Trigueros

Lori Pond

"Brandy and I have similar, dare I say weird, aesthetic tastes that run from clothing to both our favourite mode of expression, photography. This past year I've undergone a series of eye operations because of retinal detachments in my right eye. Brandy and I were in the same photography class taught by Aline Smithson this year. I was usually wearing an eye patch. When I approached Brandy about The Swap, she immediately knew what to do. She enlisted her friend Mindy to paint an eye on to my palm and dots around my eye. The rest was pure magic."

Image source, Brandy Trigueros by Lori Pond

Brandy Trigueros

"Working with Lori Pond was such a treat and a wonderful collaborative process. We are both drawn to masks, particularly the emotional and psychological aspects they evoke. In her portrait, I love how she elevated these aspects by turning me around thus challenging the norm and giving the viewer a deeper look."

Ivette Spradlin and Aaron Blum

Image source, Ivette Spradlin by Aaron Blum

Ivette Spradlin

"It is always strange to be in the other side of the lens but there is a trust that was there knowing Aaron's work. There wasn't much verbal direction. We both just fell into place."

Image source, Aaron Blum by Ivette Spradlin

Aaron Blum

"I really hate having my photograph taken, but it was nice to be on the other side of the camera for once, and I really ended up liking the result and the process. I usually never go out with other photographers, but this was a great experience."