Strange as Folk – guest post with Scott Cairns

Strange as FolkScott Cairns and I met via Facebook in the way that we do these days via someone else’s post or because you clicked ‘like’ on an author’s page. We have bantered back and forth a few times and find occasions when we share a similar perspective or interest. When I learned about Scott’s two projects – Identity and Faces in a Crowd – I invited him to guest post. Take it away, Scott.

As a writer I’ve long observed that much of my inspiration for my work occurs when I am ‘having a break’ from the keyboard and getting out and about in the world. We’re all people watchers; whether a face is so arrestingly beautiful, achingly characterful or surprisingly familiar, we can all be drawn by a face in a crowd. I always find myself imbuing each face with a narrative, a backstory which defies the stereotype of what they are wearing, who they are with and the clothes on their back.

I’m embarking on two projects centred around the idea of Portrait Fiction, where creative writing meets photography. The ‘Identity’ project and the ‘Faces in a Crowd’ project.

The ‘Identity’ project is an exploration in creative writing of just how much can be judged by a single (and raw) passport style photograph. The aims are not to match the fiction to the truth, though this in itself will be an interesting exercise. 

The purpose of the project is to use each individual’s photograph as the inspiration for a 200-word vignette, sparked by ‘something’ about the subject themselves. It is not meant as a judgment of each person, nor is each piece of writing intended to reflect the truth but rather the impression taken by one individual of another simply from this form of photograph.

Participants are asked to send a copy of their ID photograph and in return they will receive a short piece of writing inspired by their image. Once they agree to the use of their photo alongside the work, I am aiming to compile a book of at least 100 subjects. Each page will feature the initial photograph, the piece of fiction and any feedback given by the subject on the accuracy of the work or just general comments.

The ‘Faces in a Crowd’ project was spawned as a result of all of the people watching I find myself doing combined with an unstoppable interest in the story of the face. 
I had the idea of photographing strangers and writing a short piece of fiction inspired by their face. I would explain the nature of the project and, gathering contact details, provide them with the piece for any feedback.

I have been visiting various locations around the UK and taking photographs of willing participants with just this in mind. The aim is to produce another book with at least 100 subjects in a similar style to the ‘Identity’ project.

I’m still looking for volunteers for the Identity project so if you are interested, or just want to follow my progress, then check out my website

Good luck with your projects, Scott. They sound intriguing to me and the photos you’ve already assembled are fascinating.

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The historical fiction author behind A Writer of History...

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9 Responses

  1. A fascinating project, Scott. I wonder how often a face leads to a stereotypical view of that person’s story? Will you let your writing run with whatever pops into your mind? Or will you challenge yourself to go against first thoughts?

    1. Hi Carol. You pose exactly the question which intrigued me about this project. Is it possible to discern personality beyond stereotypes, particularly in a stripped down image like an ID photo, and could I stay true to the spark of inspiration or would I try to flatter, stay safe and ‘edit’ the spark. I’ve written a couple of dozen stories in the last fortnight, a handful of which have been posted to the website and style, character and genre do vary. In one instance, the feedback was that I’d uncannily hit upon some deep issues with my story which was not obvious from the photo. I’m just so honoured that people trust me with their image and equally so when they allow me to use it with my own work. It’s a really great way to flex my imagination before getting into my current manuscript….sort of like a hip flexor exercise before a morning run. Like you, I can’t help but look out for the stereotype though and, if I’m honest, I’m trying to avoid its pull.

      1. So intriguing, Scott. Makes me think about the notion of ‘first impressions’. Most of us are too quick to judge someone on that basis. I often watch people intently trying to figure out what’s going on in their lives. Once I was close enough to a couple to watch the woman break up with the man opposite her. I wanted to go over and give the man a hug, he was so distressed.

  2. Say, which Scott Cairns is this one? Seems like the contemporary writing scene is lousy with Scott Cairnses. 🙂

    Good journey, in any case.


          1. I received a “Google alert” about “scott cairns” and this one didn’t appear to be the Nobel Peace Prize guy from Canada—who, incidentally, is an exceedingly worthy Scott Cairns. 🙂

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