The People I Didn't Know Project

Photographer Ion Paciu tells us about his passion for passers-by.

Most people would feel quite self-conscious at the thought of approaching a complete stranger and asking them to pose for a photograph.

Luckily London photographer Ion Paciu is made of stern stuff.

The freelance photographer has stopped hundreds of people in Waterloo for his project People I Didn’t Know – an epic artistic work which aims to teach Londoners to use their eyes properly and to discover hidden beauty on the capital’s streets.

Ion, 45, began his project in October 2010 and has spent two years stopping people of all ages and backgrounds and persuading them to reveal their true selves to his camera lens.

He has never met or spoken to any of his subjects before he approaches them, and uses natural light or illumination from advertising hoardings, shop windows, walls and mirrors in his images.

The result is an absolutely spectacular array of black and white portraits – complete with background stories for each picture – which sits on his project's website.

Ion (pictured below with his camera) said: “The reason I do it is to raise awareness. People need to sit back and look around and appreciate the beauty around them.

"I want to see them think about the people they walk past in the street.

“I just want people to see the hidden beauty in people everywhere. They don’t see it at the moment because they don't use their eyes properly, they just use them to get from A to B.”

Ion’s subjects have included salesmen, singers, artists, homeless people, tourists and pensioners.

His website contains around 120 images with hundreds more to be uploaded in the coming months.

He said: “I just stop people on the street that I happen to look at. Before I approach them I’m almost 100 per cent sure that they will be happy to pose for me – probably about 10 in 400 have said no.

“Most of the people said they didn’t think they were photogenic or good looking, and they were not ready to pose. I had to show them the way I saw them and they loved the photographs.”

All of the People I Didn’t Know images were shot around Waterloo, where Romanian-born Ion has lived for five years. Lower Marsh was his preferred location for shooting.

Ion said: “I love Waterloo and everything about Waterloo. It is my home and my inspiration.

“It’s a special area with lots of great people using it. It is artists, singers and people who dress differently and live their lives differently.

“You look at some of them and they are lost in time, and when you talk to them they admit that they don’t feel they belong in 2012.

“Lower Marsh for me is like travelling in time to the past.”

Most of the time Ion works as a commercial photographer, specialising in portrait and still life photography for corporate clients.

However he also runs London photography courses where he teaches his students that the most powerful asset for a photographer is their eyes, rather than the camera.

He said: “It is in my heart to teach. I need to share with people what I have learned. I feel what I know doesn’t have as much value if I don’t give it to others.”

You can read more about People I Didn't Know here, Ion’s London photography courses here, and can see some of his commercial photography here.