Portraits in 2020


Not long ago, I stumbled across an incredibly moving Instagram account, Portraits in 2020.  I had the pleasure of chatting to David Cavan, the man behind the project and photographer behind the lens.

‘Portraits in 2020’ is a portrait of a different person every day for one year.  David asks everyone the same question, so by the end of 2020 leap year, there will be a visual library of 366 portraits with a quote from each person.   The hope is to give people the freedom to express how they feel at one particular moment.

David is a photographer from the north coast of Ireland and dad to two young boys.  I was curious about his photography background and the journey it has taken him on so far.  Opening up about his struggles in school, David discovered at age 17 he was dyslexic and turned to photography as an outlet and escape from formal education.  He spent time travelling, before returning to Northern Ireland to complete a degree in Community Youth Work.  It was around this time digital photography allowed his hobby to blossom into a living; it became more accessible and affordable to pursue.  Putting a camera into manual mode and learning through trial and error, David developed an ability to tell personal stories through images.  “It’s the people that make me feel so honoured to be doing the job that I do.”  Photography has taken him around the world; capturing everything from weddings in Northern Ireland to refugee camps on the Syrian border.

David explained that portraiture has always fascinated him. Although he has had the opportunity to meet interesting people through photography, he felt something was missing in his work.  Quoting war photographer Don McCullin: “Photography isn’t about seeing, it’s about feeling.  If I don’t have some kind of feeling for what I am shooting, how can I expect the person who looks at it to feel anything?”   David continued, “I love how photos still a moment in time.”

Portraits in 2020 draws inspiration from Sam Taylor-Wood’s 2013 Portrait series, Crying Men.  These projects focus on the depth of emotion, and how it can be portrayed in small and subtle moments which are often missed.  Often falling victim to his inner critic and giving up on creative ideas, January 1st 2020 marked the beginning of David’s year-long adventure to capture a portrait a day.  Entering into a new decade and with 20/20 a visual marker for clarity, it was the perfect time to bring this creative project to life.

This venture of empowerment helps to break the stigma that surrounds talking about feelings. The more feelings are talked about, people bring their own mental health experiences into the light, liberating others to do the same.  People are asked a reasonably simple question when having their portrait taken; they are under no obligation to say anything they aren’t comfortable with.  However, David provides a platform, for these ordinary people with ordinary stories to share how they’re feeling in the present.

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage.  Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable but they’re never weakness.” – Brene Brown

There is still a long way to go to reach the end of 2020, but David takes each day as it comes. Focusing on the person in front of the lens, he listens intently to how they are feeling.  It is difficult to measure success but the project seems to be touching a nerve with people.  It is empowering not only for those who have taken part but also for those who have been observing on Instagram.  The project is generating strength and unity by allowing people to relate to others on a similar journey.

 “It takes incredible levels of strength and power through vulnerability to own your own story.”  – David Cavan

The biggest challenge for David is always having someone to portrait.  He has come to accept he may miss a day but refuses to let this cause unnecessary stress and anxiety, as this would undermine the essence of the project.

“The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness” – Abraham Maslow 

Everyone is welcome to take part in the project.  By the end of 2020, David hopes to have a wide variety of people with 366 stories told.  Deeper than that, he hopes to produce an extensive body of work that includes many faces and emotions of how ordinary people feel every day.

It’s about truth, presence, seeing beyond an image.  It’s about seeing people in 20/20. 


Vic x

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