The human face gives a lot away. The slightest change in expression can be read instantly by another person. We might not know anything about a person but we’re able to glean a little bit of insight from their face. But what about their back? Is there any emotional giveaway that comes from the other side of a person? Not really, which is why a pair of agency creatives by day and street photographers by hobby thought it the perfect canvas.
Alex Mendes and Hugo Catraio are a Brazilian creative team working at Ogilvy London. In their spare time they run We Never Met, an Instagram account that features candid street photos of people’s backs, along with whimsical and totally made up stories about them.
Mendes says We Never Met grew from an experiment that brought together their love of both street photography and storytelling.
“People’s looks can be deceiving, showing you something very different from what they really are,” says Mendes. “So because we’re not showing people’s faces that allows us to create new identities for them. It’s amazing to observe how even a single line of a story can completely change the way you see a person and create a character around someone.”
For example, one woman who was caught scratching her posterior becomes a beacon of an all-too-common truth: that an poorly dispatched clothing tag can still itch. In another photo, the imagined inner dialogue of a dapper street musician reveals he’s only so dressed because it was laundry day. The captions seem to bring an entirely thought out narrative in a single sentence.
The pair collect their photos on weekends or when on holiday, and Mendes says he’s particularly fond of the shots from other countries because “ no matter where you are, people still behave similarly.”
So have they ever been caught trying to take a picture of someone for their Instagram experiment? No, not really. “It’s hard for us to get caught because, frankly, no one would imagine there are two weird guys taking pictures of their backs,” Mendes says, making a point to say they truly never do see the faces of their subjects. “When we feel like the person is about to notice us we play the tourist card or pretend we taking a picture of something else.”
The stories come after the photos, and they allow themselves to have fun with it. “It’s really fun for us to write plain weird stuff or humorous stories and still find people who can relate to them.” But mostly Mendes says they try to capture a little slice of humanity, albeit from behind. “The main thing about taking these photos and writing this stuff is that we feel we can surpass stereotypes and just show the human side of it.”