I love to photograph people in pairs. There’s something poignant about a pair, not only of two people, but also of two animals, two birds — even two objects. When these pairs display certain similarities they indicate the possibility of sharing, of mutual support, of banishing loneliness in a large and often hostile world.
As I say, there has to be some resemblance between the individuals who make up the pair, whether they’re directly related or not. Maybe they just work for the same company and share an identical uniform. Or perhaps they are man and wife who have become so accustomed to each other they dress in a similar style and finish each other’s sentences.
Family resemblance, as between brothers and sisters, is photogenic — especially when taken out of context in the street, away from the family group. It’s great to stumble across twins, although, to tell you the truth, I prefer the two people to have physical differences as well as similarities. Variations in their appearance add visual interest to the photograph.
My featured image (above) is of two musicians going to work at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. What I like most about the picture is the contrast between their similarities and differences. You see: once again it’s “contrast” that lies at the heart of the image — and sometimes we notice it only when it’s pointed out to us.
The two musicians are probably not related, just friends or colleagues. But they dress in a similar style: dark clothes, narrow jeans, comfortable black trainers with white trim. They both carry a black bag, with a prominent zipper.
Yet their similarities are limited to their clothes, accessories and physical characteristics. Once we address their higher, cerebral capabilities, the differences become obvious: signified by the fact that one wears a hat on her head while the other doesn’t; and by the stark difference in the instruments they carry.
Here’s the point: the instruments may differ, but they’re both stringed instruments and the musicians play them in the same orchestra. It’s possible for people to celebrate their unique individuality while coming together in harmony, not despite but because of these differences.
Incidentally, I’m grateful to the cellist for having a “fragile” sticker on her carry case. A glass of red wine is ideal for celebrating the idea I’m trying to express.
The Same But Different
Continuing the musical theme — and still on the topic of “same but different” — here’s a shot I took an hour after photographing the musicians.
The two subjects are on the other side of a plate glass window. Superimposed on their dark leather coats you can see the reflection of a musician reading a score. The two people outside are clearly related and share a very similar taste in clothes. Their scarves are identical and their jackets the same deep shade of maroon. By contrast, the people in the background are dressed very differently.
What you see in this image is essentially three or four layers of London life: the musician, the visitor, the passers-by, and the typically English architecture across the street. Yet it’s the pair who dominate the picture space. Are they trying to figure out the right way to get to Leicester Square? I think they look too confident to be lost. Maybe they’re evaluating the building opposite before putting in an offer for it.
The Joy of Pairs in Candid Photography
I hope you can see why I like candid photography from the two examples I’ve given. I can imagine that the people I’ve depicted have their own collections of posed photos, but I suspect they have few which show them going about their normal lives. With luck, an enterprising street photographer will take my own photo when I’m working. I won’t mind at all.
I guess I was “on a roll” that day — or else I was noticing every pair I came across. Certainly the light was particularly good and I was anxious to take full advantage of it.
My final image, therefore, is of the ultimate pair: the married couple (below).
I’m not sure what story I can spin for this image, but my guess is that the lady in red — a visitor from abroad — has just scored a couple of West End tickets to a musical production. (This is all sheer conjecture!) Her husband would rather be doing something else, but patiently he goes along with her wishes.
The woman turns to speak; the man makes a tentative gesture with his right hand. You can identify them as a pair from their body language. These people are aware both consciously and subconsciously of each other’s thoughts and movements. Every emanation demands — and gets — a response.
After all, being part of a successful pair is all about give and take. Isn’t it?