Eye contact or not?

Consider, if you will, the two photographs above. In one, the participants are chatting amongst themselves, somewhat oblivious to the photographer with his camera trained on them.

In the second picture, three of the four look straight towards the photographer (me) and, while their conversation appears to continue, perhaps their expressions belie the joy they have found in being the subject of a photograph.

Does one work better than the other? I’ve been trying to decide which I prefer. I mean I like the picture - it reminds me a bit of some of the Nova Scotian photographs that Paul Strand took in the 20s and 30s, or perhaps of some of Chris Killip’s work from the North of England in the 70s. And it strikes me as being hugely interesting that this timeless scene was being enacted before my delighted eyes in the mid-1980s.

I don’t know. I think I prefer the one where they are looking, because I feel that it makes me (as the photographer) and you (as the audience) somewhat of a participant in the scene. In the other picture we are but mere observers. Nothing wrong with that, either, it’s just with the eye-contact shot (now this is really firming as my favourite!) there is an extra, altogether more interesting, dialog beginning - that between “us” and “them”.

I will look forward to making a print from one of these negatives (I think we all know which one now) once I have completed setting up my darkroom. More on this later.