View from the Junagarh palace in Bikaner, Rajasthan.

View from the Junagarh palace in Bikaner, Rajasthan.



December 2013. I was in Bikaner, India, working on my photography while researching an upcoming tour I was designing.

Bikaner is an ancient and dusty outpost town in the Thar desert of Rajasthan. Built around the imposing Junagarh fort and palace, the town comes to life in the evening, as the sun retires for the night.

Wandering down the streets and markets I passed people shopping, talking, eating, and just enjoying the cool air. Soon I was near the busy train station.

Night fell and I was about to put away my camera when I noticed a man directly in front of me, leaning against a row of motorbikes, side-lit by the white lights from the cloth shop he was in front of.

Drawn by his narrow face, whispy beard, and deep-green skullcap I reached for my camera.

But…. I hesitated. 

It's always that moment of hesitation that kills a shot!

I had noticed how stern his expression was and the stony look in his eye.

 I admit, I was intimidated and my first instinct was to avoid him.

 So, instead, I began photographing other subjects.

 Then out of nowhere I heard the man’s jovial voice.

 “Take my picture too!"

Camera lens focused, my finger poised to fire.

"Smile!", I called out.

And he was transformed.

Siats Inspiration.jpg

His face radiated warmth, his eyes sparkled with a humor I had completely missed. Even his posture softened. I knew then what my next project would be.

To document the effect of the human smile on a stranger's face.

Its goal is to recreate the mindset from which we view a stranger, and then witness as our assumptions transform with their smile.

So there are no names.

No occupations.

No confirmed religions or ethnicity.

No intriguing life lessons or heart strumming anecdotes.

Just one stranger’s face.

The Project

What is a smile but a few facial muscles pushing the edges of the lips upwards? Yet this simple act, even if forced, transforms the entire face and changes the way a person is viewed. It is universal; overcoming religion, ethnicity, class, gender and language. The ' I asked them to smile' project was conceived to document this transformation clearly, and without pretension.

It does not wish to tell viewers if they should or should not smile nor overtly make 'profound' statements. Rather this simple and insightful project speaks through the images. It allows viewers to spend time with the portraits and notice their own reaction and thoughts.

When you are done, I would love to hear from you.