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Neal Slavin: Why I Photograph Groups



Troupes, clubs, societies and organizations. My work examines people’s public persona as opposed to their private nature. I am interested in the connection between the individual and the crowd.


I want to photograph who we are masquerading as in order to discover who we really are. While preparing a photograph I am fascinated to watch which people jockey for position; a shoulder in front of the next person, a bigger smile or a bigger frown that often steals the show. On the other hand there are people who purposefully recede from the camera’s eye.


How do we look among our peers? There is a preoccupation about who we are and with whom we want to associate. Which group will enhance (sometimes even create) our individuality? I want to photograph this search for identity.


My group portraits are like maps. We tend to look into the pictures and become fascinated by the multitude of faces within the entire work.
This is similar to reading a map and discovering the relationship of each town and city to the state and the nation.


A gold trophy can mean something different from a silver trophy and that difference cannot be rendered in black and white. In my pictures such distinctions are vital.


If a group presents itself fully to the camera, revealing the totems and markings that make it unique, that group will also reveal the feeling of what it’s like to belong.


This is a work in which groups have surrendered themselves fully to a huge 20”x24” Polaroid Land Camera. I believe when this camera was placed in front of each group, the constituents comprising those groups took notice that this was going to be a very momentous, photographic occasion. As a result they put forward their best collective attitude.


The group became such a powerful influence that all the members whole-heartedly joined forces in the drama of the photographic moment.


My current project observes people coming together in prayer, meditation and spiritual camaraderie. This is a work in which the group is not posed. The individuals who comprise each group are not asked to present themselves fully to the camera. They are photographically uninvolved. I find this method results in unique and revealing group portraits. I light the room and pick the angle that will work best for the photograph. I never tamper with the arrangement of the people or how they meditate or pray.  


The individual within the group calls attention to his or her uniqueness through body language and to what degree he or she is absorbed in the solemn act of prayer and meditation.


I am a photographer who is sociologically and relentlessly concerned about the nature of mankind’s need to join in or remain outside the crowd. I believe these are the two issues that define humankind’s existence.


Neal Slavin







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