Borne out of a love for photography, Roman Road local Zoë Gower-Jones’s Can I Take Your Picture? project began on 1 January 2017. Pausing each day to chat to a stranger on Roman Road to take their portrait, Gower-Jones embarked upon a mighty year-long mission to document the faces she passed in the street.
‘I’ve always really liked photography,’ Gower-Jones says of her decision to take a portrait of a stranger every day – in spite of her full time job as a graphic designer at ITV. ‘I love photographing people – I much prefer documenting the lives and characters of humans than taking photos of landscapes.’
So heading out camera in hand, Gower-Jones spent a year looking for people to photograph, daily. ‘It was quite difficult at first to approach people, but I have got better at it,’ she says of the first weeks of the project. A scroll through her Instagram page is proof enough of people’s willingness to have their picture taken. It’s a visual list – tiled, colourful and engrossing – of the often eccentric characters you can come across in the East End. People of all nationalities, ages and religions have made the cut. The one thing they have in common is a bright aesthetic.
‘I’m always attracted to colour and what people are wearing. Being a designer, I have an eye for style and colour,’ says Gower-Jones – explaining how she chooses her subjects. Sometimes though, it comes down to practicality and logistics. Committing to take a photograph every day, means also having to take a photograph on holiday – sometimes in a country where you don’t speak the language.
‘I learned how to say ‘can I take you picture?’ in Greek,’ says Gower-Jones of the time she asked an old Greek widow to smile for a photograph on her summer holiday. ‘Doing this project really challenged my preconceptions about people. Sometimes you ask someone and you really expect them to say no, but then they surprise you,’ she explains as she tells of her Christmas day stuck at Dubai airport. ‘I asked a guy in the waiting room and he was so happy to have something to do while we were delayed for so long.’
And what of the people of her local Roman Road? ‘It’s interesting doing it on my doorstep. I think Roman Road is really an interesting place to be doing a project like this. It definitely feels like the East End here and everyone really is so friendly,’ says Gower-Jones, strong in the belief that the project has brought her much closer to the community.
2018 will see the Can I Take Your Picture? project move from Instagram feed to your local feed in an exhibition at Muxima cafe this summer. Keep an eye out for more of Zoë Gower-Jones’ eye catching Roman Road portraits. She may not be taking one a day any more, but she’s still on the hunt for colourful characters. Put your brightest look together for a walk down Roman Road. Zoe might be out with her camera.