The people in this photo are Anatoli and his daughter Mariana. They are both artists. Anatoli is a friend of a good friend of mine. The last detail is important because intimate photographs like this one generally require a degree of familiarity and trust between the photographer and the subject.
I spent a few evenings with Anatoli prior to the image. He's quiet a character. Anatoli regularly goes into endless monologues on the most absurd topics of which he speaks very casually and the most mundane things, to which he adds incredibly funny twists.
I met Mariana briefly the evening before and chatted to her on the day of this photo. Originally I wanted to take a fairly formal, straight-forward portrait of Anatoli. I asked Mariana to sit-in for her dad by the window for a few practice shots, so that I could make the portrait of Anatoli quickly, before he got bored with me and told me where to go (which he could do very poetically).
While Mariana was sitting in for her dad, the dad actually came in and came into my frame. Perhaps the shot of Vodka he had at lunch made Anatoli forget why I was there. He decided it was a good time to give his daughter some valuable life advice on topics like boys, travel and her brother. I understood that this interaction would make for a much more interesting photograph than my original idea of a formal portrait.
Main reasons I think it works
The image is like a still from a movie scene, but, it's real. It works because it's a frozen intimate moment between a father and daughter. The body language is key here – his finger, her grasp of him, the way her chin is on her arm and the eyes staring into nowhere. They’re oblivious to me. This is one of those rare moments where I could say that I was as close as one can be to a fly on the wall.
The other big reason the image works is the ambience. This is a pretty typical interior of a countryside house in Belarus. The details add to the story, they give you more information about the world of these people. The eye explores the frame, but nothing completely takes away from the protagonists – the father and daughter.
Most important tip
The main thing to take away here is that images such as this one are generally a result of a connection of sorts, of previous interaction with the people in front of the camera. There has to be trust and a certain disregard for the photographer to create truly intimate, candid photographs.
My time with Anatoli and Mariana, as well as my connection to them through a friend all played a role in allowing for this photograph to happen. In this particular case it was important to have spoken before to Mariana because she was quite protective of her father. Had I not established rapport and had she not trusted me, it's likely she wouldn't want photos of her dad during such an unguarded moment.
You won't always have the chance to make connections like these, but, when you do–take advantage of them. Even if you're into travel photography, don't limit yourself to photographing exotic strangers. Photograph your friends or friends of your friends. You'll often have better access to them. Your reward will be images that have a much higher degree of intimacy and this, in general makes for more engaging viewing.
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