JJ Casas

San Francisco-based portrait & commercial photographer & 

creative director. 

Sharing my thoughts as a photographer, cinematographer, marketer, and copywriter.

JCasas Photography | The Blog

© 2024 JJ Jumoc-Casas

30 December 2022

What I learned photographing strangers in a window display for 6 hours

2 Godox AD200 flashes utilized for Write Left Right in 826 Valencia’s store.

For my personal project Write Left Right, I set out to photograph how people uniquely hold a pencil. Ultimately, I’d like for any sales to benefit a writing program/organization and 826 Valencia was a perfect fit. It’s a nonprofit organization founded by author Dave Eggars dedicated to supporting under-resourced students with their writing skills. The store in San Francisco’s 826 Valencia also happens to be a pirate shop (seriously) where all sales benefit the program. This summer, they started 826 LIVE which invites a variety of artists to be at their window display and do their thing. After pitching them my project a month ago, they invited me to two time slots for me to continue my project photographing hands for Write Left Right. Here’s what I learned from being in that window display for nearly 6 hours.

But first, how many times have you gone to the mall and someone from the kiosk wants you to try out what they’re selling? Whether it’s a massager or soothing hot pack, what do you typically do to avoid talking to the salesperson? Ignore eye contact at all costs.

The visitors coming into the 826 Valencia were usually those curious to see a pirate store. The hard sell is seeing me there with photo equipment and having no clue about my project. Because visitors would have to pass by me first before fully walking to the store, once I saw them either look at my signage or me, my quick pitch was the following:

“Hello! My name is JJ Casas and am a photographer based out of SF. I know you’re here to visit the store but once you do circle back, I’d love to tell you more about my project and see if I can include you. I’m not charging anything and this would only take you 1 minute.”

I know people are always hesitant to be pitched at so mentioning there is no charge and it only taking 1 minute is the most important part for me to remove the resistance for people being part of this project. Coming back to the mall scenario, we usually go there to a store knowing what to buy. A kiosk is the opposite of that as the seller is the one pitching the product to any passerby. And even if the product is good, no one is really coming to a kiosk looking to buy it unless the pitch and/or demo is good.

Once the stranger is done going around the store, I greeted them again and ask “Hey, so you ready to be part of this project that’ll only take 1 minute of your time?” At this point, explaining the project and showing examples of the work actually takes longer than photographing the person.

After honing this pitch for strangers during this 6 hour window, I was able to add 16 participants to my current collection.

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