Nathan Schroder's lifelong fascination with other people’s secrets is his greatest source of creative inspiration. “I studied psychology for four years before photography, so that’s always in the back of my mind on portrait assignments,” the 38-year-old Dallas-based commercial photographer explains. And this curiosity is also what led him to the diptych series, “Pockets,” started in 2006.
“One day I was goofing around—emptying out my own pocket, rearranging the items, and photographing them,” he says. “Then I started exploring the idea of what other people carry with them, and why. Was there a story there?”
In the studio where he works, Schroder grabbed a few people and asked them to empty their pockets; after photographing the contents, he turned his lens on their faces. The experiment quickly turned into a project. “Most of my work at the time was really Photoshop-intensive, and I liked the fact that something like this was raw,” he says.
First with friends, then with strangers at art openings, he’d ask subjects to empty pockets or purses in any way they chose. Then, after photographing the contents with a Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II and Profoto ringlight rig, he took surprise photos of them.
In the past five years he’s made 100 pairs. The surprising part, he found, wasn’t what was in the pockets and purses, but people’s willingness to let these small yet intimate details of themselves be captured by a stranger. “The men’s pockets were more boring,” he says. “I was surprised by the amount of random personal items that women carry around—prescription drugs and so on—that they might not want to discuss with strangers. And wouldn’t hesitate about dumping out on a table for a photograph.”
His only unwilling subject came when a friend working at the Capitol building in Austin brought him in to photograph the people who worked there: Council aides were game, but others, such as a plainclothes police officer, were not.
Schroder has found the diptychs tell different stories depending on their order, so he sells each pair framed in edgeless plexiglass, leaving the decision of how to arrange them up to their buyers.
He hopes to begin photographing a broader cross-section of the public than the creative milieu he’s mostly targeted so far.
“I’ve done portrait photography for years, but I enjoy this project because it’s a bit more telling,” Schroder says. “You learn more about the faces you see when you know what they carry around.”
See more of Nathan Schroder’s photography at www.nathanschroder.com.