December 2013. I was on a photography trip to Bikaner, in the deserts of Rajasthan, India. Near the busy train station, I saw a man I wanted to photograph. I hesitated.
The look in his eye and his stony, stern look intimidated me. It's always that moment of hesitation that kills a shot! I ended up avoiding him and photographing other subjects until I heard his jovial voice, "Take my picture too!". Camera lens focused, my finger poised to fire.
'Smile', I called out. And he was transformed.
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 strangers face.
In the days, months and years that followed, I asked random people on my photography adventures (mostly on the streets of India) to pose unsmiling and with a smile. These images are the heart of my project. 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 confirmed religions or ethnicity.
No intriguing life lessons or heart strumming anecdotes.
Just one human face.
Without, and with a smile.
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 '...so 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, we would love to hear from you.