Representation and Portrayal of a Subject. by Nick McGrath

I’m always curious about how we select images when it comes to portraits of people we photograph. Here I have selected four out of eight images from a very quick little street portrait session. Each one has its own elements and feelings on its own, slight differences have occurred between the press of the shutter. In context of the person, he is sitting on the side of the footpath having a break in between work. You can see that in the first image, he’s a little surprised and looks slightly defensive. Outside of the frame, his work colleagues start to laugh at the scene developing between the photographer and the subject. In the second picture the man has crossed his arms, third picture he starts to smile a little but still a little embarrassed at the attention he is getting. The last picture he puts his head down. The whole scenario lasted less than ten seconds and then it was finished.

Each image is worthy in its own outright and speaks its own words. Yet I often think about the dilemmas in representation and portrayal of the people we photograph. Why do we choose a particular image over the other.

In the end, I decided to choose the image of the man with his head down. I loved the shape of the hat and how it tends to hang over his shoulders with a slight presence of his chin at the bottom. Also, it hides his identity, not that I needed to in this case, but it tends to offer more questions than answers about who the person is and moves away from a typical portrait setting. It is worth noting that, when photographing people in either high risk or vulnerable situations, portrayal and identity is very important and much consideration is needed when making work public

Which one do you prefer ?

 Labourer on work break. Chinatown, Bangkok. 2018 ©Nick McGrath

Labourer on work break. Chinatown, Bangkok. 2018 ©Nick McGrath

The Beautiful Mistake by Nick McGrath

When I am teaching photography in Chinatown, I talk a lot to my students about the beautiful mistake. The beautiful mistake is the un-intentional result through the intentional action of being loose with your exposures and loose with your shooting style. It can come in many ways, one is by frustration and failure of a process, the other is by abandoning the constraints that may inhibit your creative process and freeing your self of a particular criteria set that you place on your expectations about what it is you are trying to capture.

Below is a picture I took from the impressive and awe inspiring Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar. I’ve been to Yangon over 10 times and I had intentionally not visited the pagoda. The main reason is I prefer some kind of serendipity to lead me to a place, some random event to lead me into a place of unknown and not to intentionally go to one particular place. In this case, I was more eager to explore the surrounds of Yangon city first. To get lost in the streets and smells, the visual and aural allure and chaos - the assault of the senses. While doing this, the assault began to temper and to form a relationship with me. It was then that I could start to embrace the subtlety and discard the raw feelings I was experiencing. To feel I was becoming closer and clearer to the source of the inspiration.

So when I was asked by a friend who I was travelling with to go visit the Shwedagon Pagoda this October, It seemed the right time. The unscheduled, unplanned request was perfect in timing and mood on a balmy Sunday afternoon in Yangon.

Arriving at the Shwedagon is one of the most awe inspiring experiences one can have when visiting any place of worship. The feeling goes beyond the physical structure of the place - it goes into the people also. I felt overwhelmed and ill-equipped to find a way to photograph and portray such a structure. So I sat down on the marbled smooth cool floor for a couple of hours, watching the people, feeling the serenity and calmness of the surroundings while offerings were made. As the afternoon waned into evening, the incense smoke filled the air and burnt the nostrils, I watched families, young teenagers, tourists and monks walking the three clock-wise circles of the pagoda. I had walked around the pagoda and taken a few pictures but felt that I was not able to capture a sense of feeling of place. I decided to sit beside the stream of worshippers and watched them drift along. By that stage the moon was upon us and a beautiful atmosphere laid bare to all. In some frustration, I started to just shoot from my sitting position using a slow shutter and just have fun and relax. It was this moment the picture appeared. The expanding energy emitting from the centre of the pagoda, the physical structure and the physical bodies blending into each other and stretching time and space. Here and now, I was, in the moment finding my expression from the beautiful mistake.

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Photograph by Nick McGrath. ©Nick McGrath October 2018

When the student is ready, the teacher appears ! - Buddhist quote

7 Day Photography Workshop - NAGA LAND January 11th-18th 2019 by Nick McGrath

Join me on an adventure of a lifetime to one of the last frontiers in South East Asia. I will be leading a 7 day photography workshop to one of the worlds great tribal gatherings - Naga Land, West Myanmar.  We will journey from Mandalay into the Naga region to document the Naga new year festival celebrations - a once in a year event where all the Naga tribes come out of the jungle and into the community to dance and celebrate their local custom. We will be shooting and building a visual narrative through daily workshops with participants as we journey through the Naga Lands. At the end of our workshop, we will present our work via a projection to the local community in Mandalay


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Trip Overview:

  • Visit traditional Naga settlements to witness the centuries-old Naga way of life, still little disturbed by the outside world 

  • Capture images of pageantry, tribal dance, and incredible traditional costumes at Myanmar’s Naga New Year, one of the world’s most fascinating and authentic tribal gatherings

  • Take portraits of proud warriors and revellers, and hear the stories of these fiercely independent people 

  • Take a boat ride on the remote upper reaches of the Chindwin River and photograph gold panners, logging camps, fishermen and tracts of virgin forest along the way. 


Price Per Person (double occupancy): $3500 USD

Limited to six persons only

What’s included:

2 ways domestic flight as per program

Local Accommodation

Express boat passage with cabin 

Private excursion boat in Khamti

Meals outside Mandalay (B/L/D), plus purified water, coffee, and tea 

Farewell dinner in Mandalay

4WD Car transport as program

Nagaland Visit Permits

English-speaking local guide

group and individual visual narrative building practice


What’s Excluded:

Personal Insurance

Transport to/from Mandalay

Meals (L/D) in Mandalay aside from farewell dinner

International flights

Sleeping bag and foam mattress

Personal expenses (Camera fees, Charity, Tip, etc.)


please email npmcgrath@gmail.com for detailed itinerary and general enquiries