Monday, June 18, 2012

What's 30 Strangers?

What is 30 Strangers?
A Justin Hackworth Photography project and fund raiser.

Since 2009, I’ve photographed 90 sets of mothers and daughters for a portrait project and fundraiser called 30 Strangers. I’m looking forward to this year’s project, which started in June (2012 participants have already been selected). Each year, I make 30 portraits in 30 days. Each day of the project, I photograph a generation, a mother and daughter, people I’ve never met.

I donate my time for the sessions, and the participants make a donation to the Center for Women and Children in Crisis, our local women’s shelter serving victims of domestic violence.

As you’d expect, everyday working on the project is different, and that’s something I love about it. I photograph a mother and daughter, but sometimes they bring a granddaughter or a grandmother along and I make a portrait of three or four generations.

People also bring their histories with them, and the stories are never the same. Sometimes the mothers and daughters are the best of friends, sometimes there are some rough patches waiting to be healed. We certainly laugh during the session, and usually dance, and sometimes cry. It’s a privilege for me to capture something of their relationship, these generations, these women who are inextricably linked.

30 Strangers offers an exciting challenge to create something meaningful for every mother and daughter who participate. As a person, I love meeting these new people. As a photographer, I love being able to photograph them. I’m honored to have had hundreds of people request one of the 30 spots available each year. Strangers have flown in from all over the country to participate.

Five years ago, in 2008, the idea for 30 Strangers began. I heard about Bill Wadman’s amazing portrait project called Project 365 in which he did a portrait every single day for a year. People might think, “Hey, he’s a photographer. What’s the big deal about taking a portrait everyday?” But actually, it’s a very big deal to shoot and process a successful portrait every single day. It requires drive, creativity, awareness, consistency, and a lot of hard work.  And the thought of doing it for an entire year blew me away.

In 2008 I decided to give it a try for a month, and my goal was to photograph 30 strangers in the month of June. I put an ad on Craigslist and met 30 new people that month. The challenge for me was to make an interesting portrait of someone I’d just met, to keep the images diverse and still reflective of the person I was photographing. As always, my goal with portraits is to capture something completely authentic, something that reveals a truth about the person I’m photographing.

In 2009 we decided to expand the parameters of the project by photographing mothers and daughters and making it a fundraiser for our local women’s shelter, The Center for Women and Children in Crisis. This time I invited people to email me to sign up for the project on a first come, first served basis and I had filled all 30 spots in just three hours (thanks in large part to our friend Gabrielle, of and Stephanie from, who helped spread the word).

Pictured below are the images that were included in our 2009 exhibition.

The project began in 2008 when I photographed individuals. One a day, for the the entire month. That’s where the name 30 Strangers came. Care to see the work from previous years? Here are the links.