One question that seems to come up often with regard to my photography; is how do you come up with your photography projects? This was a frequent question during the development of my published project In Passing (working title Bad Trip – Sad Trip), and then even more so after it was published in LensWork. I will use the word ‘series’ interchangeable with the word ‘projects’, as to me, they mean one in the same.
So to help, here are my thoughts regarding how to establish and complete a photographic project. But don’t think I’m the expert on this, as the process is messy and frustrating. And even thought I have completed some projects and I have a bunch of projects in the pipeline, I still find it hard.
First, by way of personal background, for my day job, part of what I help my clients with is project management. And I have been doing project management since the late 1970’s, and I have been teaching project management for the last twenty years. BUT that did not mean that I had translated those skill to what I did as a photographer. Sorry, but that light bulb did not start to burn bright until the last couple of years. My prior Project management experience just gave me some tools to use once I made the artistic connection.
Because until a couple of years ago, I just made Singular Images. Those one of a kind, one hit wonders. I had been very envenious of those who had completed a photographic project, but I just did not see how that applied to ME. I had a bunch of photographic collections, different groupings that I could place my photographs in, but the photographs had no connection between them, other than the common words such as waterfalls, winter, or Colorado or other such collections. I had not made that mental connection (yet).
Then in January of 2007, I read an editorial by Brooks Jensen in LensWork, titled Printing for a Purpose. Okay, seems simple enough, eh? But he provided some word pictures for me that helped me make the mental connection. First Brooks talked about what it means to print without a purpose, that is to produce the random photographs that are NOT connected. Today a frozen creek. Yesterday was an abstract catus arrangement. Tomorrow may be the patterns of the sand at the beach. Just a knee jerk reaction to what ever was in front of the lens and what ever I felt like at the moment.
Yep, that was me. Now I did have some photography groupings, but no real structure or purpose to why I photographed them, other that the resulting image looked nice.
The key word here is purpose. I was not photographing with a purposeful end in mind, a specific end or product, such as a body of work, a book or portfolio. There was not a unifying or underlying structure that connected my photographs for me, other that they might be in black and white.
Part of what triggered the change for me, was the idea of a project or series to focusmy energies. To create a unified body of work that collectively was greater than any single image to express a feeling or thought. To think about and implement the elements that unifies the body of work which results in a consistent feeling when viewed.
Later, I purchased the book Photo Projectby Chris Dickie and from his introdoction: By undertaking a project you are focing yourself to think about your photography, what is is you are trying to achieve and how you are going to achieve it. The pictures acquire a point and a purpose beyond looking pretty, sharp and well composed. And subjecting yourself to the neccessary discipline helps you and your photography to develop. This is also great satisfaction in finding yourself with an identifiable, discret body of work that has something to say, rather than another pile of snaps to join those in the shoebox under your bed.
Chris goes on to point out in his book that a committment to a project can give greater meaning and purpose (that word again, eh?) to your photography. And here is another word that seems to keep reoccuring when photographers talk about their projects: committment. Keeping their personal project alive and working on them, come thick and thin, perphaps for weeks, months or even years.
Another word that is common to photographic projects is self-discovery. In the process of completing a project, many photographers learn something about themselves. From Dickie: Projects become a thing of exploration… to find and show what is or has been; how looking at something with different eyes can reveal afresh; reinterpretation of the thought-to-be-familiar through the photographers unique vision; revelation of the unfamiliar.
Egads, this is looking a lot a like a two part series…so let me stop here for now…
Best regards, Doug
Great post, Doug. Thanks for the information. I find that my mind is starting to make the shift from “singular images” into project mode as a result of SoFoBoMo. I still like individual pictures, but I find that I am starting to think about groupings of pictures having some cohesiveness.
BTW, your In Passing series made an indelible impression upon me. I think about it each time that I see one of those roadside markers. I saw quite a few of them this weekend.
Paul, thanks! I think that when folks are trying to complete their SoFoBoMo,they are getting into what it means to do a project. Taking photographs with a purpose.
I agree Doug. I think the SoFoBoMo thing is helping show the way towards getting finished projects.
I have on occasion started projects, but mostly thematic projects – a particular idea, but never had a particular end result in mind. I think that outcome is the difference in what you are describing here – not just having a theme but photographing it with an end result or purpose in mind can maybe be more motivating.
Reminds me of action items needing to have an owner and a date attached before they mean anything…
The purpose (or why) of doing a project may be like the difference between casual jogging versus training to do a specific marathon; a purposeful intensity to complete ‘something’.
hmm. I only ever manage to train when I’m preparing for a race too. Now you are speaking my language :)