A Study in Smiles

Written by Samantha D., EF Gap Year Class of 2019

  • Publish Date: July 25th, 2019

As a photographer, a traveler, and a curious mind, I had the opportunity of a lifetime: I got to travel the world for six months, and I got to bring my camera along with me.

A Study in Smiles is a project I conducted on my EF Gap Year. I photographed 30 strangers on the streets of three different continents throughout my adventures. I talked to local people, asking their opinions or their stories, and taking a portrait to document the exchange.

The support of Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) gave me the confidence to complete this study and share it with the world.

The diversity in cultural response was astounding and beautiful in its own accord. Depending on where I was photographing, if I wanted results, I had to adapt my tactics to the local culture: the way I phrased questions, how I approached people, whether I spoke the native language or English–these details made a difference to the subjects. The openness in Costa Rica contrasted extensively to the brevity in Paris, whereas the relaxed response from Sydney was direct and discreet.

I spent hours talking to people in Rancho Quemado, the locals eager to share their life stories, while walking the streets of Paris took more patience: things move quickly there and everyone is focusing on their busy days. Sydney is a hub for activity, and the variety of response was most drastic here, with people feeling anywhere from flattered to uninterested. It took experimenting and persistence. When I received enthusiastic permission, had a brilliant conversation, or got the shot I was looking for, however, the efforts were worth it.

SNHU gave me a safe space to develop this project, from rough drafts to final edits. They continually encouraged me to spend time on the in-between stages; having the program as an outlet to upload my progress was vital to the project, as it made me feel like my research was more significant than just me. It felt as if I had people ready to listen to what I discovered.

The support of SNHU gave me the confidence to complete this study and share it with the world.

This project is the highlight of my travels; I recall each subjects’ cadence so clearly, their expressions going beyond a pose, also mimicking the mood of the situation. The moments before each picture are etched into my memory, like watching a movie.

When I glance at the portrait, I recall the feelings immediately: the smiles were bright, the stories were sincere, and my shutter speed was wide-open.

Samantha D.

EF Gap Year Class of 2019

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