Passport photos are some of the most mundane types of portraits you can have taken. They come with a lot of restrictions. You have to look straight at the camera, wear a neutral facial expression, and be positioned against a clear background without a shadow—just to name a few. Because of these constraints, it seems like it’d be impossible to add any sort of creativity to the images. But as photographer Max Siedentopf shows, you can spice up any seemingly boring passport photoshoot as long as you do it off-camera.
Through his project called Passport Photos, Siedentopf abides by the rules of these official portraits while having some fun (outside of the frame) at the same time. His pictures feature folks as they stand towards the camera engaging in odd and often outrageous things. In one photo, a man is wrapped in a paper table cloth, tinsel, and balloons. Another portrait shows a woman holding a landscape painting that she’s just punched her fist through. And in one of the most surprising images, a stoic man stands face to face with a roaring blaze. Accompanying these bizarre photos are cropped versions of the subjects’ heads that comply with all passport photo restrictions.
Siedentopf’s inspiration for this series came from his own experience of renewing his passport. “While sitting in front of the camera and keeping a straight face,” he recalls to My Modern Met, “I was wondering how something so dull could be ‘tricked’ and get some more excitement into the whole process of passport photography.”
Siedentopf set up the resulting photoshoot but didn’t tell his subjects about the “excitement” they were walking into; everyone thought they were arriving to have an ordinary picture taken. “A few people that had to do the more extreme ideas were told beforehand because I had to make sure they would be ok with it,” he explains, “however, all seemed to take it as a positive and refreshing surprise. Luckily no one walked out but there sure were some people that questioned what we were doing.”
Scroll down to see some of the oddest passport pictures you’ve ever seen. For more of Siedentopf’s photography, be sure to follow him on Instagram.