this photographer shot portraits of strangers before and after she kissed them
“By creating new relationships and learning about the thoughts and ideas of strangers, we might be able to build bridges and combat ignorance and judgement.”
When photographer Johanna Siring attended this year's Roskilde Festival in Denmark, she befriended a plethora of strangers. Her method? Kissing.
"Kissing sparks all the nerve endings in your lips," Johanna explains to i-D, "causing a release of dopamine and a surge in oxytocin. It's an instantaneous stress reliever and creates an immediate emotional bond between two people."
Johanna, who is Norwegian and based in New York, would approach a potential subject and ask them to pose for her. After snapping the first picture, she would then explain her photo series — asking for permission to kiss them — and photograph their face immediately after performing the consensual, intimate act.
She let the subjects dictate how things went. "Some would give me a quick kiss and then die of laughter afterwards, while some went straight for making out," she says. "The most interesting part was that I kind of felt that I knew them a little bit after the kiss, and I think this feeling is reflected in the second portraits."
Johanna didn't limit herself either. Her subjects vary in gender, age, appearance, and race. In the pre-kiss pictures, each person is attempting to project a specific version of themselves — slouching their shoulders to appear easygoing or smiling to look sweet. The post-kiss photos show how easily the act is dropped. One boy flashes a tight-lipped smile after his kiss, in stark contrast to his formidable biker jacket decorated with patches and studs.
Johanna talks to i-D about why she believes everyone is photogenic — even if they say they aren't — and what it was like to kiss strangers for two days.
Roskilde was started in the 70s during the hippie movement and has grown to become the largest music festival in Northern Europe, with headliners like Rihanna. What is the energy like there?
Roskilde Festival has literally been the highlight of my year for the past nine years. It differs from every other festival I've been to in the way that everyone hangs out with everyone. It's a very liberating mentality. Around 125,000 people come together and create this magic "village" on a field outside for eight days straight. The festival has been non-profit since it started in 1971, and I think that does something to the mentality of the people who gather there. You can literally sit down in any camp and hang out with anyone you meet. What you do in the outside world doesn't matter. You don't have to worry about meetings, appointments, or planning your day. What you wear doesn't matter — you can even wear nothing at all or attend the naked run. For an entire week you have the liberty of just existing in this carefree universe. You can turn off your brain and enjoy just hanging out, kind of like when you were a kid.
What's behind your interest in strangers?
I made a "mantra" for myself when I was pretty young: if I have a positive thought about someone, I will go and tell them. It doesn't matter if I know the person or not. I mean, what can be better than getting a compliment from a stranger? I have ended up photographing many of these people and many of them have turned into good friends. In my world, every single person is photogenic and has something unique and interesting about them. This is what I strive to capture in all my photos — the essence of a person.
It often seems like technology has made it harder, not easier, to make friends with strangers. How did this series help you overcome the modern-day difficulties of making friends IRL?
It's all about having an open mind and meeting people with respect, regardless of someone's background, nationality, ethnicity, or religion. You can always learn from each other. In today's whirlwind of news stories that revolve around actions of hate, I feel it's more important than ever to communicate how easily we can learn to know someone, and the fact that we are all just human beings with the same basic instincts. By creating new relationships and learning about the thoughts and ideas of strangers, we might be able to build bridges and combat ignorance and judgement.
What other projects are you working on?
I am currently working on a series with strangers I met along the way that have become dear friends — it means a lot to me. Other than that I am lucky to be collaborating with Matte, an agency in NYC that books me for projects within fashion, music, and culture. I also commute continuously from New York to Norway, where I work with a national cultural magazine called Dagbladet Magasinet. I am also collaborating with different record labels on developing the image of new and established Scandinavian artists.