Outsiders in London


Scope of the Project

The project commenced in April 2013, and the photography and interviews of the 40 individuals who participated took 12 months to complete.

The hardest and, without doubt, the most important part of the project was to find individuals who were willing and able to take part and to talk freely about why they felt like outsiders and how this had affected their lives. It is true that a list of categories was drawn up at the start but, over the months, this list changed almost beyond recognition as volunteers came forward and recounted their stories. It might be said that the photographer, Milan Svanderlik, created the framework for the project and the extraordinary content of the sitters’ lives then shaped it and fleshed it out.  Of course, life is mostly complicated and cannot easily be compartmentalised: there are some individuals whose stories could fit comfortably into several different categories, but the initial list was created primarily to help make sure that none of the commonest or most obvious reasons why people feel themselves outsiders was overlooked – it also helped to avoid duplication. Sadly, in the event, a number of important topics have had to be left out, simply because, with the resources available, it proved impossible to find people who had particular kinds of life experience and who were willing to come forward. To some extent, this was perhaps to be expected.

It must also be emphasised that this was an artistic, not a commercial project.


Though a photographic art form practised nowadays by only the few, formal studio portraiture was chosen quite deliberately, as Milan firmly believes that such portraits are as much the creation of the sitter as they are of the photographer. His studio-based technique, with ample time allowed for each portrait, has engendered a closeness between sitter and photographer that is almost tangible in these images of Londoners.  Echoing a remark of the famous photographer, Irving Penn, Milan says that, when working this way, a photographer cannot help but ‘fall in love a little’ with each of the sitters he observes through the lens:  inner beauty and spirit are liberated, allowed to surface, and instantly captured, to be held for all time. All the sitters kindly agreed to travel to a temporary studio in Chiswick, where they were photographed just as they were, or as they wished to present themselves:  clothing, hairstyle, make-up, and jewellery were left entirely at the discretion of the sitters.

All images were captured using a Canon EOS 5D Mark III digital camera, together with a single fixed-focus lens (a rather special Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II).  Quite deliberately, the lens was set at a wide aperture (f 4.0) creating a very shallow depth of field;  this allowed the eyes to be kept pin sharp with the rest of the face drifting softy out of focus – the ‘Bokeh effect’.  The images were taken in maximum-resolution ‘RAW’ format and then processed using Apple Aperture and Adobe Photoshop software.


With their photography sessions complete, the sitters were interviewed by Milan in private and, with their agreement, these exchanges were recorded.  While they were sometimes encouraged to cover a specific experience or feature of their lives, they often chose to paint a much broader picture and, sometimes for the first time, a number of sitters chose to discuss deeply personal and intimate issues they had had to face, and in this they were not discouraged.  These interviews often proved to be deeply emotional experiences but also formed an essential and extraordinary part of the project, both for the interviewer and the interviewees. The recordings were then transcribed and sometimes restructured by Milan, who sought to set them in context, following which they were painstakingly reworked by the project’s editor, Gerald Stuart Burnett, who has striven to bring a degree of coherence and a consistency of style and structure to the text of each story.

It should be remembered that while this is primarily a photographic project, Milan has no hesitation whatsoever in saying that, in many ways, the life stories of the sitters are as important as their images, and though they obviously tell something about the unique lives of 40 individual Londoners, the topics and the situations they deal with are unquestionably universal.