Boring People
Project info

‘Boring People’ captures the essence of boredom in a series of studio portraits. Emotional states are ephemeral and fragile – sometimes, with the mere presence of a camera, they collapse. The state of boredom particularly fascinates me, I wanted to see if it was still possible to capture this emotion when the subject is aware they are being watched from the outset.

To lure the subjects into boredom and allow me to capture their true bored selves, each person participated in one of three experiments devised with the help of psychologists:

1 An Endless Loop
The sitter is made to listen to a boring speech about EU legislation on a short loop. It feels like the speech should make sense but it never does, trapping the subject in a state of boredom.

2 Time Perception
The subject is alone with a loudly ticking clock which only has an hour hand and, unknown to the participant, runs at half speed. Time appears to pass more slowly than normal, coaxing a bored state.

3 Pain vs Boredom
A recreation of Dr Erin C Westgate and Dr Timothy D Wilson’s electrification experiment. Subjects sit in an empty room, with only a button which they can choose to press to painfully electrify themselves. The experiment explores the lengths to which people will go to get relief from boredom.

I captured each subject with a single large format photograph that form this submission, along with a series of digital images and film. Unseen by them, I observed the participants via a video feed and triggered the large format camera with a long shutter release cable when they appeared to me to be in their purest emotional states.

The unpredictability and limitations of large format photography are its strengths. As I could only set the camera up at the beginning of each sitting, I knew the portraits would be subject to motion blur and were unlikely to be in perfect focus, but this was liberating. It was important for me to use this traditional analogue approach to capture these portraits of boredom in a non-clinical way, exploring the personality of boredom and not simply its crisp physicality. This let me channel the spirit and humour of the bored subjects running throughout my found photography collection. I process my negatives at home in my bathroom. The physical artefacts and imperfections, remind us that this is image is in fact a physical object.

“Dawn Parsonage’s 'Boring Exhibition’ brilliantly highlights the private struggles we all face when bored - the struggle to find meaning, to find ways to occupy our restless minds - and shares these intimate and often funny moments with the rest of us. The result is charming, deeply human - and definitely not boring.”
Dr Erin C Westgate, Social Psychologist, Ohio State University.