Photography by Robyn Daly

these sun-drenched street photos are perfect people watching

In her new book and exhibition photographer Robyn Daly explores her fascination with the lives of strangers.

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Aug 9 2018, 8:15am

Photography by Robyn Daly

There are some days when the lives of complete strangers seem far more interesting than our own. Who are all these people? Where are they going? What’s in their shopping bag? Photographer Robyn Daly turned her fascination with the lives of strangers in to a photo book and exhibition. Titled 'I Want This Life And Another' it documents her time spent living and travelling in Europe where unfamiliarity encouraged her fascination. Ahead of the exhibition Robyn sat down with us to talk about her series and the little puzzles that we make out of strangers.

Your exhibition bio says "We paste ourselves into the mental headspace of those we encounter" can you explain that idea to us?
I’m talking about our initial piecing together of someone we’re seeing for the first time. Obviously we don’t care about everyone we sit next to on the train, but some people just resonate and grab our attention. It’s like constructing a puzzle except you’ll never have all the pieces so you just have to make them up. It’s a fun game to play.

Whereabouts were these images shot?
The majority of these photos were taken in Poland and France. I was living in Paris for half a year and spent so much time walking around my neighbourhood with a camera absorbing the people and little scenes and conflicts. A few were taken at a lake in Krakow last summer, and a couple are from a small town north of Warsaw.

What personally interests you about strangers?
I’m not interested in all strangers, it’s definitely a select few.. It’s more because of a time and place and collision of different elements that makes someone seem magical in my eyes. Strangers are curious subjects because obviously you know nothing about them, but all it takes is a second to see a gesture, silhouette or bold getup and conjure a fictional world around them. It’s more fun to imagine someone’s life story than to listen to it sometimes. Strangers also awaken a sense of fantasy, like imagining your own life if it had gone down a different path from one of the many pivotal points you have experienced.

Do you tell the person that you've just taken their photo? Do they get weirded out by it?
Yeah occasionally! Depends how sneaky and cheeky I am that day. Some people flip out and others don’t care or just stare at me, which is fine. I pretty much hate asking people for their photo, first of all it ruins the photo because then they’re self-aware and have snapped out of their internal conversation, which was the interesting thing in the first place. And because it’s awkward if they say no. Most of them involve me being a total creep and silently stalking someone until I’m close and then the shutter is really loud so they turn around and we both know what’s just happened.

There’s no eye-contact in any of the images, which creates a mystery to everyone. Did you not include eye-contact on purpose?
Hardly any of my photos have eye contact to begin with, so it was already a natural motif throughout the series. Once I realised how many images I had of the backs of people, or strangers without faces, I started to question this ongoing theme and figure out why this happens. I love the mystery it evokes, and the imagination you need when reading the images.

What do you enjoy the most about the intersection between travelling and photography?
What I enjoy the most is feeling anonymous and insignificant as an outsider. I like the mutual understanding that I’ll never be a part of these strangers lives and we’ll never see each other again and that’s great. Being on the outskirts and watching other people living their day to day is foreign and rewarding because we don’t get the chance to see alternative ways of life and curious routines often enough.

Do you need the unfamiliarity that comes from being overseas to spot these moments?
I realised early on that I need a dose of unfamiliarity to be really engaged and excited about photography. When I first moved to Melbourne about six years ago, I spent all my time walking around Collingwood (mostly to avoid my weird housemate), but I took a lot of photos during that time. I guess it’s my way of absorbing a new environment and getting acquainted with its unique character and intricacies, much like a person. It’s not that I have to be overseas, more that I need to travel beyond my everyday route once I’m first introduced to it.

Robyn Daly’s ‘I Want This Life And Another’ launches 6pm August 17 at Offsite , Melbourne.