Afternoon Inspiration: A Local Photog's Dreamy Polaroid Project

We became big fans of local shutterbug Amber Mahoney after seeing her stylish portraits and lookbook shoots, so when we caught word that she's got a super-cool photography project under way, we were intrigued.
The project, simply titled Present Company, showcases the interesting, quirky characters that Amber encounters on a daily basis — and along with a portrait, she provides each person's answer to one of two questions: "If you could ask a perfect stranger anything in the world, what would it be?" and "What is one thing you’d like people to know about you?"
The result? A fascinating glimpse into the life of a stranger. We caught up with the photog, who shared her inspiration, insight, and a few of her favorite snapshots — click through to discover.
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Who are some of your favorite artists, photographers, writers, etc who inspire you?
"I’m drawn to artists who make me feel something. William Eggleston is one of the first photographers I really identified with. He is able to make things most people find mundane or ugly or boring interesting and beautiful. Diane Arbus’ work is also really moving, and Francesca Woodman’s photos are some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. Chloe Aftel and Noa Azoulay-Sclater are two contemporary photographers who constantly blow my mind. A few of my favorite poets/authors: George Saunders, Frank O’Hara, Rainer Maria Rilke, and Pablo Neruda."

Photo: Courtesy of Present Company Project
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Your Present Company Project is so intimate — do you ever feel uncomfortable approaching strangers? How do you handle that situation?
"I’m always a bit uncomfortable at first because I never know how the person is going to react. They could love the idea or they could hate it. Thankfully, I was born into a family with very little shame. My grandfather would burst into song — usually "Hello, Dolly!" — whenever the moment moved him. Which was often. And usually in public places like the grocery store. And my mom can talk — really talk — to anyone, which I think is amazing."

Photo: Courtesy of Present Company Project
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Have you stayed in touch with any of your subjects after documenting them?
"Yes! I’ve actually found a few friends through this project: Tyrone, Mandi, Morgan, and Mark to name a few."

What catches your eye in a potential subject? Have you noticed any patterns or commonalities among the people you approach to photograph?
"I think there is a pattern, but I’m just not sure what it is yet! It’s always emotional. I’m drawn to people who are different. It could be the way they dress, the way they act, or just a feeling they give me. I also really like beards. I don’t know what it is, but you’ll see a lot of beards in Present Company."

Photo: Courtesy of Present Company Project
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Shooting a Polaroid can be an expensive proposition these days. What is it about the medium that speaks to you?
"There’s something poetic and nostalgic about instant film, not to mention it looks beautiful. And you never really know what you’re going to get, so it doesn’t feel like work to me. It’s like Christmas."

Is there a particular person you would love to shoot and ask your signature questions?
"Yes! Annie Leibowitz. I think she has a wonderful face and her story makes her so human to me. I was able to take a quick Polaroids of her a few months ago, but the batch of film was old and the photo didn’t turn out."

Photo: Courtesy of Present Company Project
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You also do more formal portraiture. How does that process differ from shooting a portrait of someone you have just met on the street?
"I think both situations require a level of empathy. This person is opening his/her world to you — it’s an incredibly vulnerable position to be in front of someone’s camera. I like to get to know people before I take their photo."

In all your work, you seem to eschew the traditional, posed smiling faces in favor of more serious or contemplative expressions. Is that a conscious choice or just something that happens naturally?
"I’m drawn to honest moments. I really just try to document what I see, by getting involved as little as possible. Sometimes it’s people laughing and smiling and sometimes it’s a thoughtful, quiet moment. Either way, it’s honest and to me that’s beautiful."

Photo: Courtesy of Present Company Project

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