- Buyer's Guide
Guest #mycarryID :: Jason Travis
Take one look inside someone’s bag and language and geographic barriers fall away. There’s no need to exchange words – heck, you don’t even have to have seen them in person. The items they have in their bag are a silent meet-and-greet of sorts, a sneak peek into their lives and the things they value. Intrigued by the idea that our EDC can shed fascinating insight into our lives simply by seeing it, photographer Jason Travis created his Persona series. Over 400 photographs later, it’s going strong and offers up a wealth of carry goodness we couldn’t resist for our Guest #mycarryID series…
We love geeking out on what people carry. But tell us why you’re so into it?
Over the last eight years I’ve photographed 425 people for my Persona series. I guess you could call it an obsession at this point. I’m a collector of many things, and it’s always interested me to see what other people are into, and what they carry on them. I guess for me, it’s something to relate to. There’s always a conversation or topic that arises from discussing essential everyday items.
Everyone’s bags are personal, and their contents give a snapshot of their personality. It can be a reflection of the individual and their appearance to the world.
Tell us about the first time you decided to shoot a subject’s possessions? Was it your own or a friend’s or a stranger’s? Walk us through that moment.
I had just received my first DSLR camera as a gift from my father. I had the idea to start a series that would help me get better at taking portraits. I also wanted to have an accompanying photo that could tell a story about the individual. It was just one idea that happened to stick. The first set of them were all friends. It wasn’t until later that I approached strangers.
“I guess for me, it’s something to relate to. There’s always a conversation or topic that arises from discussing essential everyday items.”
And as the project grew did it pick up momentum quickly? Or was it a slow burn in need of some hustle?
I shot 24 of them and had a little art show at a gallery here in Atlanta in 2008. Flickr helped me gain momentum and I just kept taking them and adding shots to my web gallery. As it grew I told myself that maybe I don’t have to put an end to it. Persona is still fun for me and I still enjoy organizing people’s bag contents. As I explore work and personal projects I still make time for Persona shots. The series has experienced different moments of attention over time and I’m always happy with that.
How do you approach each person? I’m sure the idea might seem strange to some…
It generally doesn’t take much to explain the idea. Just about everyone I’ve asked has been open to taking part in the series. Strangers off the street are the most difficult. Not everyone is accepting of a stranger approaching them but having an example to show helps. The order in which I take the photographs always varies. Sometimes I take the portrait first, sometimes I organize the contents first. Usually the organization part takes the longest. I want each Persona diptych to be special and have the same amount of attention. And I want the subject to be happy with the outcome.
“Everyone’s bags are personal, and their contents give a snapshot of their personality.”
Do you have any favs?
That’s a tough one. My favorite Persona shots are usually ones that feel completely cohesive as a whole. Items fill the space just right, and the colors pop. The ones that aren’t rushed and I can really consider lighting and my surroundings. A photographer, Erik, from NY was visiting Atlanta. We spent some time on his in my photo studio and had fun with it. I’ve had the opportunity to take a few animal personas over the years. Dogs, cats, chickens, and more. A favorite of mine is a French bulldog, Puma. Another favorite is Michael Stipe of R.E.M. It wasn’t taken in the exact same format, but the idea was the same. I was asked by CNN to take my Persona series to SXSW in 2011. It was a fantastic experience and I learned a lot about people and how traveling vastly changes your bag contents.
Has any subject really surprised you with their selection? If so, tell us more.
I don’t think any subject would surprise me these days. I’ve learned to never judge a book by its cover. I used to be surprised though. One guy had a bunch of sandwiches and told me he was hungry a lot. I thought that was a bit peculiar. One woman had some Barbie dolls and I immediately understood she had children. Another guy carried a gun in his bag. I had no idea about that one.
“I had the idea to start a series that would help me get better at taking portraits. I also wanted to have an accompanying photo that could tell a story about the individual.”
Have you been surprised by the response you’ve had so far?
I’ve been delighted! I think mostly everyone can relate to Persona in some respect. Viewers have taken an interest in people, technology, fashion, bags, photography, and more.
What’s next for you?
I’m going to continue shooting Persona! I’m nearing 500 Persona diptychs and have some big plans ahead. I’m also exploring some other projects that take a cue from Persona. I hope to keep learning and growing and experimenting. It’s been a fun ride and I’m excited to see what’s around the corner.