Experience

365 Parisiens: Constantin Mashinskiy on Why He Shoots Random Passersby

Constantin Mashinsky spoke with Bird In Flight about the idea behind the “365 Parisiens” series and that will happen when he adds the final 72 images.


The “365 parisiens” blog is just portraits with short comments from the photographer. A man with a scarf tied at the neck “was standing in line for a baguette,” an elegant lady in a wide-brimmed hat “said she often goes for a stroll in vintage dresses,” an immaculately dressed Monsieur “had with him a pocket watch and a pen,” the owner of a puffed-out mustache “was smoking a pipe and drinking beer.” Bird In Flight spoke with the author of the series on how he chooses his subjects, what he talks about with strangers, and why he doesn’t accept commercial offers.


Constantin Mashinskiy, 27 years old

Originally from Karaganda, Kazakhstan. Lives in Paris. Develops user interfaces and enjoys film photography. Inspired by the work of Richard Avedon, Diane Arbus, August Sander.

The first photo in the series was the portrait of a stranger who asked me for a cigarette on the street. Cigarettes are expensive in Paris, so I made him an offer: “How about I give you a cigarette, and you give me a portrait.” The man was embarrassed at first, but eventually agreed.

This image served as a “rough sketch” for future photos. At that time, I didn’t have much experience shooting classic portraits. I didn’t know how to position people, and in general, I wasn’t very interested in this genre. Working with professional models hadn’t attracted me, but I wanted to know what would happen if I asked a passerby to become a model for a couple of minutes.

The project is like a personal diary. It allows you to get to know the locals, unlike classic street photography, where there is no communication between the photographer and the model. And it’s a great way to develop a shooting technique and force myself to always have a camera.


{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/365_01.jpg”, “alt”: “Constantin Mashinskiy 01”, “text”: “He was stuck because of an ignition failure.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/365_02.jpg”, “alt”: “Constantin Mashinskiy 02”, “text”: “She was starting a book.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/365_03.jpg”, “alt”: “Constantin Mashinskiy 03”, “text”: “He was looking busy.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/paris_30.jpg”, “alt”: “Constantin Mashinskiy 01”, “text”: “Why? Do I look strange?.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/paris_26.jpg”, “alt”: “Constantin Mashinskiy 02”, “text”: “He seemed to be looking at something far away.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/paris_03.jpg”, “alt”: “Constantin Mashinskiy 03”, “text”: “I think he works with people.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/paris_04.jpg”, “alt”: “Constantin Mashinskiy 02”, “text”: “She asked to hurry up.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/paris_05.jpg”, “alt”: “Constantin Mashinskiy 03”, “text”: “She was talking on the telephone from the empty alley.”}

Shooting

I thought for a long time about to negotiate with passersby about the portrait. In the end, I decided to directly ask whether they are willing to be photographed. The person immediately responds, and nobody wastes their time.

Initially, I would ask the first person I saw, but now I try to choose the subject carefully. I find and shoot interesting people, those who intrigue. Sometimes, I’ll come up with tasks, for example, to photograph a woman over forty, wearing a hat and sunglasses. The conditions seem simple, but their implementation may take all day. I shoot in the morning when I go to work, at lunch, and if it’s still light out, even at night. Sometimes I won’t complete the task, and I need to shoot any stranger.

One rainy day, I went up to a man in a business suit. I’d barely had time to greet him when replied, “I don’t have any money,” without even looking in my direction.

Some people refuse to pose because they’re busy, some people think they aren’t photogenic or just are just shy. But most passersby willingly agree, or are at least interested in why I’m taking photos. Then I show them the pictures and talk about the series. That usually convinces them.

I use about two or three shots on each subject. I ask them to look at the camera and not to smile, but I never ask for a specific pose.


{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/365_08.jpg”, “alt”: “Constantin Mashinskiy 08”, “text”: “He was polite and friendly.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/365_07.jpg”, “alt”: “Constantin Mashinskiy 07”, “text”: “She was waiting her language exchange partner.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/365_09.jpg”, “alt”: “Constantin Mashinskiy 09”, “text”: “She said that her bicycle follows her everywhere she goes.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/365_10.jpg”, “alt”: “Constantin Mashinskiy 10”, “text”: “He was drinking coffee in the rain.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/paris_07.jpg”, “alt”: “Constantin Mashinskiy 07”, “text”: “She was reading a restaurant’s menu.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/paris_06.jpg”, “alt”: “Constantin Mashinskiy 08”, “text”: “He was looking inside a photocopy shop.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/paris_08.jpg”, “alt”: “Constantin Mashinskiy 09”, “text”: “I guess she was waiting someone in front of the railway station.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/paris_09.jpg”, “alt”: “Constantin Mashinskiy 10”, “text”: “She was waiting outside of a laundry.”}

Equipment

I use a Canon 6D digital camera, because I need to publish the photos on a daily basis. I don’t really like the results of shooting on a “cold” digital camera, so I use an old Soviet “Helios” lens that I put on the Canon. It softens the picture.


Format

I learned about the similar Humans of New York project a few months after having started mine. However, the only thing that we have in common is that the projects involve strangers. The photos from Humans Of New York are interesting only in tandem with the text.

The main goal of the “365 Parisiens” project is to make contact with a person. I have a lot of work in classic street photography, when shooting subjects is done discreetly, but I do not publish them anywhere. Now, I don’t like fact that the project requires publishing portraits every day. The pictures do not have time to be on the shelf. With the film, I can objectively evaluate which frames failed, and which didn’t, because I get the photos after some time.


{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/365_04.jpg”, “alt”: “Constantin Mashinskiy 04”, “text”: “She was drinking a beer straight from the bottle.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/365_05.jpg”, “alt”: “Constantin Mashinskiy 05”, “text”: “Loud kitchen sounds were coming behind him.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/365_06.jpg”, “alt”: “Constantin Mashinskiy 06”, “text”: “She took her headphones off and smiled.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/paris_10.jpg”, “alt”: “Constantin Mashinskiy 04”, “text”: “She was ordering her lunch.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/paris_11.jpg”, “alt”: “Constantin Mashinskiy 05”, “text”: “I think she was expecting someone to arrive any minute.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/paris_14.jpg”, “alt”: “Constantin Mashinskiy 06”, “text”: “I think he just went out of church.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/paris_12.jpg”, “alt”: “Constantin Mashinskiy 06”, “text”: ” She had a notebook and a pen in her hands.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/paris_13.jpg”, “alt”: “Constantin Mashinskiy 05”, “text”: “He was sitting on a park’s stone wall next to many people.”}

Subjects

We are taught from childhood not to talk to strangers, to avoid them. In fact, people around are kind and sympathetic. You can find common ground for a couple of minutes with random passers-by. I’ll have coffee or dinner with some of the subjects in the series, they’ll keep in touch with me.

Each encounter with a stranger is fun in its own right. For example, after a brief conversation, it turned out that a person worked in a nearby office building, although we met in a different part of town. Or that I had managed to take his colleague’s picture a few months earlier.

One rainy day, I went up to a man in a business suit. I’d barely had time to greet him when replied, “I don’t have any money,” without even looking in my direction. Once, a woman took me as paparazzi and ran away as far as possible, hiding her face.

It is very difficult to choose a favorite subject or favorite portrait. One of the most striking is the 100th portrait. It’s a middle-aged man with a cigarette in his mouth. He conveys perfectly the atmosphere of Montmartre through his character. Later I learned that he posed to illustrate a collection of poems called Soif de Montmartre by the famous poet Bernard Dimey. Moreover, this portrait was a certain milestone — 100 completed images.


{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/365_11.jpg”, “alt”: “Constantin Mashinskiy 11”, “text”: “We had a brief, but joyful conversation about people, emotions and theater.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/365_12.jpg”, “alt”: “Constantin Mashinskiy 12”, “text”: “She had a great sense of humor.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/365_13.jpg”, “alt”: “Constantin Mashinskiy 13”, “text”: “He said that he’s a portrait photographer with a focus on CD covers.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/365_14.jpg”, “alt”: “Constantin Mashinskiy 14”, “text”: “Her voice sounded tired.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/paris_15.jpg”, “alt”: “Constantin Mashinskiy 11”, “text”: “He complained about his teeth.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/paris_16.jpg”, “alt”: “Constantin Mashinskiy 12”, “text”: “He was sitting at the bus stop.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/paris_18.jpg”, “alt”: “Constantin Mashinskiy 14”, “text”: “Ok, I can trust you.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/paris_17.jpg”, “alt”: “Constantin Mashinskiy 13”, “text”: “He walked out from an empty restaurant.”}

Reaction

From the beginning, I made a Tumblr account, since making a website was pointless. Eventually, the project began to appear in publications, but if there wasn’t as much interest, I wouldn’t be bothered.

People ask me to shoot weddings and portraits, but I don’t accept most commercial offers, because I don’t consider myself a photographer. I am currently working as an art director and lead designer of interactive projects associated with interfaces, and often I need to manage, rather than do something with my own hands. The interactive projects will eventually disappear. In our time, we do things that do not exist physically. They live in a file that can be easily erased.

I’ve received offers to organize an exhibition and publish a book, but first the series needs to be finished. And organizers of exhibitions and publishers are worried by the number of pictures — 365 is a lot. Moreover, not all the pictures are good.


{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/paris_19.jpg”, “alt”: “Constantin Mashinskiy 11”, “text”: “She was rushing through the streets.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/paris_20.jpg”, “alt”: “Constantin Mashinskiy 12”, “text”: “He was surprised.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/paris_21.jpg”, “alt”: “Constantin Mashinskiy 14”, “text”: “I saw him again an hour later.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/paris_22.jpg”, “alt”: “Constantin Mashinskiy 13”, “text”: “She just said yes.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/paris_23.jpg”, “alt”: “Constantin Mashinskiy 11”, “text”: “He had placed many shopping bags on the ground.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/paris_29.jpg”, “alt”: “Constantin Mashinskiy 11”, “text”: “I think she is a quite enthusiastic person.”}


Future Plans

After the 365th photo, I’ll probably sell my digital camera and only use film. I’ll focus more on other series, in which a lot of photos have accumulated. And I’ll take the time to relax, as I’ve been shooting the whole year without any break.

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