Portraits with strangers

Remember the dreaded school portrait? In a new project, currently taking place in Sydney, The Glue Society’s James Dive is asking strangers to come together and relive these formal portraits in the name of art…

Remember the dreaded school portrait? In a new project, currently taking place in Sydney, The Glue Society’s James Dive is asking strangers to come together and relive these formal portraits in the name of art…

Titled Us, Dive’s project forms part of Sydney’s annual festival ‘Art and About’, which runs until October 12. Dive will be photographing his subjects within a makeshift outdoor studio in Sydney’s business district at various dates and times until October 5 (see artandabout.com.au for further info). Each image features 21 participants and all are given a signed and numbered copy of their photograph to take away. All the images Dive takes are also housed on a dedicated Tumblr site, here.

Dive’s inspiration for the piece came from seeing the reaction of strangers when he was in a bike accident. “The idea began when I was knocked off my bike,” he says. “A random group instantly formed to help and I still have no idea who any of them were to this day. I became enamoured with the thought of formally capturing spontaneous groups of strangers that come together for the briefest moment in time.”

The project has been popular, with the strangers involved embracing the opportunity offered by Dive to be part of a ‘moment’. “The work now has taken on a life of its own,” he says. “In a good way. What is remarkable is how quickly a group becomes an actual group. And I suspect in this case it has a lot to do with the process of a formal group photo. For instance all participants are asked to sort themselves out from tallest to shortest. And that seems to be a remarkable way to get to know someone.

“The group is then arranged in a deliberately squashed formation on the benches. All standing must put their hands behind their backs, those seated must put fists on knees and feet together. Everyone must have straight backs and chins up. There is a lot of banter and jest as the group work together to get their photo to the required standard. And once the photo has been taken there is spontaneous applause, every single time.”

The outdoor photo studio

The finished portraits on the Tumblr site also feature all the participants’ names

Dive has created a number of artworks during his time with creative collective The Glue Society, all of which contain a combination of wit and poignancy. These have include God’s Eye View, a series of biblical scenes reimagined in Google Street View, and I Wish You Hadn’t Asked, created for the 2012 ‘Art and About’ festival, which featured a suburban house that visitors could enter which was raining on the inside.

While his work may be quite disparate in style and format, Dive sees it as all being linked by the need to communicate an idea. “The execution of my work is quite varied but the underlying principal always remains the same,” he says. “My primary focus is communication, how best to communicate a certain idea or notion. As a result, every artistic execution is what I deem to be the most successful way to present a certain idea or notion.”

‘Art and About’ is on in Sydney until October 12. More info is at artandabout.com.au.

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