SMILE (Australia, 2018, 9 mins)
Having a portrait taken feels like a thing of the past. Going off to a studio with your family or siblings in an uncomfortable dress, or colour-coordinated outfits, and told to smile. It was later to be used as a gift to grandparents, as well as a record that this was a happy family. That was my experience in the 80s. Now that we’re living in an age of phone cameras, everyone appears to be a photographer, but not many people take portraits of each other, the type to frame or put on a wall. Ones that we can look at and treasure; or that are not lost in virtual storage or someone’s phone.
Egyptian-born Tawfik Elgazzar arrived in Australia at the age of 23. In 2011 while waiting for work, he brainstormed with friends and out of that emerged a community photography project he named Flash Hub. Loving the eclectic community of people surrounding him in the inner-city Sydney suburb of Newtown (population 15,000), Tawfik installed a silver-starry curtain and lamp in front of the Newtown neighbourhood community centre as a way of documenting his neighbourhood. There each week he started photographing willing passers-by.
Genuinely interested in people and their life stories, while feeling a strong sense of belonging in his new community, Tawfik set out with the unassuming question: What brings joy to people – is it family, friends, or something else ? Smiling is an act that people are wired to respond to and whether we like it or not, most of the time it has the benefit of being a happiness booster as our natural response is often to smile back. Tawfik knew this and needed it. His gift worked both ways.
He developed relationships with people and participants received their photograph, which they treasured. Some participants had to combat their negative feelings about being photographed – I’m too ugly for this – but realised that they could turn this into a positive experience.
British/Australian Writer/Director/Producer Harriet McKern’s film explores the nature of portraiture, individuality, and cultural diversity, as Tawfik and his subjects discover what it feels like to be really looked at. Incorporating stories from participants, as well as Tawfik at work, McKern has managed to create a deceptively simple and aesthetically beautiful film about an exchange of giving. One which both Tawfik and his subjects treasured.
Harriet McKern is currently developing projects as an independent director working in drama and documentary. Have a look at her films here: https://www.harrietmckern.com/films
SMILE has been selected at film festivals around the world including the inaugural MONOCHROME FILM FESTIVAL, which as the name suggests, is a short film festival showcasing some of the best monochrome works from around the world.
Thursday November 14 at the Whirled Cinema in Brixton (London).
Have a look at the whole of Tawfik’s project here.
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