Jason Wilde

Photographs / Jason Wilde's Free Portrait Studio

Jason Wilde’s Free Portrait Studio

Itinerant photographers were an accepted part of English street life in the latter part of the 19th and the early part of the 20th centuries. Part of the Victorian floating world of peddlers, tinkers and travelling entertainers, their sitters were photographed in temporary, jerry-built studios that were set up in divers places throughout the UK.

Influenced by these early travelling practitioners, from 2009 until 2017 Jason Wilde’s Free Portrait Studio was assembled 51 times in a variety of venues in and around the London Borough of Camden. Visitors to those venues, that included a doctors surgery, a hospital, a library and two pubs, were then invited to have their portrait made in return for a free A4 black and white portrait.

2224 people accepted that invitation helping me create an important and unique visual archive that is equal parts English history, cultural anthropology and human narrative.

Interview with Luisa Le Voguer Couyet - March 2018 / Part 1

LLVC - What is Jason Wilde’s Free Portrait Studio

JW - Jason Wilde’s Free Portrait Studio was a mobile photo studio that ran from 2009 until 2017, making documentary portraits of visitors to a variety of venues in and around the London Borough of Camden. In return for taking part in the project, each participant was able to receive a free A4 black and white print.


LLVC - Can you tell me how the idea for JWFPS came about

JW - My plan was to spend a few summer weeks over a number of years traveling around the coast of England making portraits of people in front of a white background. In 2009 I left London for my first two week trip but after chasing and wrestling my 9ft x 6ft collapsible backdrop in windy rain along the promenades of various south-coast towns I decided that an outdoor project was too chancy. Around the same time Professor Val Williams invited me to set up a series of portrait studios in her gallery during the 2009 Hastings Old Town Carnival Week. Accepting Val’s invitation to move the project indoors, I held 3 portrait studio sessions over a week in August and made 183 portraits. The success of those first studio sessions influenced the creation of the indoor Camden focused version of Jason Wilde’s Free Portrait Studio.


LLVC - Why Camden

JW - The addition of lights, laptop and assistant into my setup made the project too expensive to tour in the way that I had originally planned so I decided to stay close to my home in the London Borough of Camden.


LLVC - What is the process of JWFPS? How do you approach people

JW - JWFPS consisted of two parts, the photo studio and the ‘reception’ area, which was a table displaying assorted project information and images made at previous events. The photo studio was set up in full view of the public while posters were used to advertise that days event. Finally, along with handing out flyers, my assistant and myself would discuss the project with anyone that expressed an interest, respectfully trying to persuade people to participate.


LLVC - How many people took part in the events

JW - ome boring facts: a total of 2224 portraits were made at 51 events which averages out at 43.6 participants per event. The least amount of participants at one event was six, the most was 103. The least amount of images made of an individual was one, the most was 67. The shortest event time was four hours, the longest was eight hours. An average of 15 portraits were made of each person which means 30,000+ were made overall.


LLVC - So many images - did you use film or digital

JW - I used a medium format Leaf camera coupled with a Leaf Aptus digital back. Film would been far too expensive for this project.


LLVC - How did you fund the project

JW - The project was self funded, which is why it was spread out over eight years.

What was your intention behind the plain white background

I wanted to remove many of the elements that can influence the way a portrait is read and create a visual framework that allowed the portraits to be viewed equally. With that in mind a backdrop was used to mask distracting venue backgrounds while the same lighting and translucent umbrella combination was used at each event to ensure uniform and even lighting across the whole project. In addition, the idea was to make portraits that encouraged speculation rather than fix meanings, so to avoid any link to a specific emotion (smile/happy - frown/sad et), or the ambiguous associations of a sitter looking out of the frame (thoughtful, pensive etc), all participants were asked to adopt a neutral face and gaze directly into the lens.


LLVC - There’s a very calm and composed feel to the portraits - was this deliberate

JW - Yes, the portrait making process was a very quiet one. Before any photographs were made each person was given the same brief explanation about how portraits work and why I did not want a smiley faces portrait project and they were also given the option of smiling for their free print. Once the participant stepped in front of the camera they were asked to adopt a neutral face and direct their gaze into the lens and that was it. Many participants asked “what do I do” and my reply would always be “up to you” and then I’d wait for them to compose themselves.


LLVC - Did people like their portraits

JW - It’s important to say that apart from the Kentish Town Health Centre, which required a slow and sensitive approach because of sick and vulnerable visitors, the free portrait studio events had a very lively and cheerful atmosphere and many people were happy to take part in the project simply to become part of the portrait archive. As for people liking their portraits, the professional looking set up of the mobile photo studio played a significant role in participant satisfaction as it raised expectations of what kind of images were going to be made. Unfortunately lots of folk were disappointed with their portraits which is both interesting and amusing.

Jason Wilde’s Free Portrait Studio Bio

  • 2018 - JWFPS 02, published by Butchers Hook Books
  • 2017 - JWFPS 01, published by Butchers Hook Books
  • 2016 - The Kentish Towner
  • 2012 - The New Review - Independent on Sunday
  • 2012 - The Kentish Towner

Jason Wilde’s Free Portrait Studio


Itinerant photographers were an accepted part of English street life in the latter part of the 19th and the early part of the 20th centuries. Part of the Victorian floating world of peddlers, tinkers and travelling entertainers, their sitters were photographed in temporary, jerry-built studios that were set up in divers places throughout the UK.

Influenced by these early travelling practitioners, from 2009 until 2017 Jason Wilde’s Free Portrait Studio was assembled 51 times in a variety of venues in and around the London Borough of Camden. Visitors to those venues, that included a doctors surgery, a hospital, a library and two pubs, were then invited to have their portrait made in return for a free A4 black and white portrait.

2224 people accepted that invitation helping me create an important and unique visual archive that is equal parts English history, cultural anthropology and human narrative.

Interview with Luisa Le Voguer Couyet - March 2018 / Part 1

LLVC - What is Jason Wilde’s Free Portrait Studio

JW - Jason Wilde’s Free Portrait Studio was a mobile photo studio that ran from 2009 until 2017, making documentary portraits of visitors to a variety of venues in and around the London Borough of Camden. In return for taking part in the project, each participant was able to receive a free A4 black and white print.


LLVC - Can you tell me how the idea for JWFPS came about

JW - My plan was to spend a few summer weeks over a number of years traveling around the coast of England making portraits of people in front of a white background. In 2009 I left London for my first two week trip but after chasing and wrestling my 9ft x 6ft collapsible backdrop in windy rain along the promenades of various south-coast towns I decided that an outdoor project was too chancy. Around the same time Professor Val Williams invited me to set up a series of portrait studios in her gallery during the 2009 Hastings Old Town Carnival Week. Accepting Val’s invitation to move the project indoors, I held 3 portrait studio sessions over a week in August and made 183 portraits. The success of those first studio sessions influenced the creation of the indoor Camden focused version of Jason Wilde’s Free Portrait Studio.


LLVC - Why Camden

JW - The addition of lights, laptop and assistant into my setup made the project too expensive to tour in the way that I had originally planned so I decided to stay close to my home in the London Borough of Camden.


LLVC - What is the process of JWFPS? How do you approach people

JW - JWFPS consisted of two parts, the photo studio and the ‘reception’ area, which was a table displaying assorted project information and images made at previous events. The photo studio was set up in full view of the public while posters were used to advertise that days event. Finally, along with handing out flyers, my assistant and myself would discuss the project with anyone that expressed an interest, respectfully trying to persuade people to participate.


LLVC - How many people took part in the events

JW - ome boring facts: a total of 2224 portraits were made at 51 events which averages out at 43.6 participants per event. The least amount of participants at one event was six, the most was 103. The least amount of images made of an individual was one, the most was 67. The shortest event time was four hours, the longest was eight hours. An average of 15 portraits were made of each person which means 30,000+ were made overall.


LLVC - So many images - did you use film or digital

JW - I used a medium format Leaf camera coupled with a Leaf Aptus digital back. Film would been far too expensive for this project.


LLVC - How did you fund the project

JW - The project was self funded, which is why it was spread out over eight years.

What was your intention behind the plain white background

I wanted to remove many of the elements that can influence the way a portrait is read and create a visual framework that allowed the portraits to be viewed equally. With that in mind a backdrop was used to mask distracting venue backgrounds while the same lighting and translucent umbrella combination was used at each event to ensure uniform and even lighting across the whole project. In addition, the idea was to make portraits that encouraged speculation rather than fix meanings, so to avoid any link to a specific emotion (smile/happy - frown/sad et), or the ambiguous associations of a sitter looking out of the frame (thoughtful, pensive etc), all participants were asked to adopt a neutral face and gaze directly into the lens.


LLVC - There’s a very calm and composed feel to the portraits - was this deliberate

JW - Yes, the portrait making process was a very quiet one. Before any photographs were made each person was given the same brief explanation about how portraits work and why I did not want a smiley faces portrait project and they were also given the option of smiling for their free print. Once the participant stepped in front of the camera they were asked to adopt a neutral face and direct their gaze into the lens and that was it. Many participants asked “what do I do” and my reply would always be “up to you” and then I’d wait for them to compose themselves.


LLVC - Did people like their portraits

JW - It’s important to say that apart from the Kentish Town Health Centre, which required a slow and sensitive approach because of sick and vulnerable visitors, the free portrait studio events had a very lively and cheerful atmosphere and many people were happy to take part in the project simply to become part of the portrait archive. As for people liking their portraits, the professional looking set up of the mobile photo studio played a significant role in participant satisfaction as it raised expectations of what kind of images were going to be made. Unfortunately lots of folk were disappointed with their portraits which is both interesting and amusing.

Jason Wilde’s Free Portrait Studio Bio

  • 2018 - JWFPS 02, published by Butchers Hook Books
  • 2017 - JWFPS 01, published by Butchers Hook Books
  • 2016 - The Kentish Towner
  • 2012 - The New Review - Independent on Sunday
  • 2012 - The Kentish Towner


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