To celebrate the publication of The Photographer’s Playbook: 307 Assignments and Ideas, Aperture commissioned twenty-two photographers to create new works in response to assignments from the book. Curated by Christopher McCall of Pier 24 Photography, the project sparked a fascinating dialog between some of the world’s leading photographers and educators working today. What follows is an insight into the possibilities of looking at photography through someone else’s eyes.


"This assignment was perfect for me because I had been thinking about smiling pictures when Lucas Foglia sent it. Until recently, I felt that smiling pictures should be reserved for the family album-that the smile was a kind of shield, a way to mask the more difficult things that show up in faces from time to time. And in the past, when people smiled for my camera, I would sometimes take the picture to oblige them. But then I would ask, “Would you mind if I took another picture of you not smiling?” Hearing myself say the words sometimes felt uncomfortable. As phony as a smile could be, if I, as director of the photo, asked someone not to smile, wasn’t I creating an unnaturally somber scene, one that was equally phony or manufactured? Who was I, I wondered, to impose somberness or melancholy onto a life I ultimately knew nothing about?


It’s somehow counterintuitive, but the fact that this man is smiling makes the viewing experience less comfortable for the viewer than if he were looking somber. Why is that? Is it because we’ve seen so many somber, struggling portraits before, ever since Jacob Riis and Lewis Hine? Has that genre of the portrait become an acceptable (and comfortable) way of looking at the uncomfortable reality of suffering around us?"


Gregory Halpern


The artist responded to Lucas Foglia's assignment, Make It Seem..., on page 113 of The Photographer's Playbook:


"Make a photograph of something that is supposed to be happy, like a person laughing, and make it seem sad."

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