more about projects

by julie posted January 2, 2008

When I try to plan a project, I find myself visualising the result as finished photographs. Unfortunately, I can only visualise photogaphs that look like photographs already taken. This means that I’m trying to plan a project to make a set of photographs that are essentially trying to be like someone else’s. I’m pretty sure that within my limited scope of subject matter, there isn’t much that hasn’t already been covered, and to a higher quality than I might achieve. In itself this isn’t a problem because I’m not trying to do it better than everyone else. It is a problem, though, because it puts in mind a preconceived notion of how the finished product should look. It’s a frustrating business, and makes planning a project an awful chore compared to my favourite activity – exploring with the camera. That’s when I make my own pictures. That’s when I see something, how it looks to me, get lost in the process of discovering it and I develop the images with only that in mind. I’m really struggling to put that sort of experience into the process of working on a project – the two concepts just seem to clash at the most fundamental level.

Is there a way that i can bring them together? Is there a way to bring coherence to my visual ramblings? Is there a way to work on a project that isn’t born of someone else’s vision?

A stem of the problem seems to be that people develop projects based on a particular subject, and go on to make a series of images about that. The subject could be a physical item, like stained glass windows from a particular architectural period. It could be a person or group of people, a reflection on their culture. Less tangible but equally interesting could be an issue such as the changing of a landscape or area of a city. It gives you a solid foundation to work from, a subject to react to, and to create images of, with feeling. But what if your main source of photographic inspiration is aesthetics, and not a deeply emotional subject?

In trying to think through this, I’ve been thinking about inspiration, a lot. What do I get excited about photographing? I don’t have to think twice: nature. From the thousands of daisies that tell you it’s summer, to the rich coppery oranges and browns of winter leaves on the forest floor, and all the millions of little magic things in between, I can’t help but forget myself amongst them. To go a little deeper though – why is that exciting to shoot? It’s transitory and fleeting – you can’t pick a flower for it not to wilt, or take a leaf home and it not curl up and dry out. It’s so delicate that it only exists temporarily and in its own micro environment, and yet it’s part of a much bigger picture, the seasons, the processes of growing and dying, it all goes back to that big cycle of life. It’s almost impossible to talk about it without sounding at least a bit cheesy and like I’ve come over all Pagan but I’m going to ignore my inclination to censor that for now.

So, is there actually a deeper emotional response to these elements of nature than just “Oooh, pretty!”, that can be examined in/through/as a project? I’m pretty sure I respond to something more than physical attractiveness there. But can that be communicated through the images themselves? I think, maybe, that’s my aim. I know there’s been mass controversy over whether photography is communicative and the general conclusion was ‘not’, but there’s space to explore the subject, surely. Isn’t that what projects are about – exploring – developing your understanding of something through photography?

5 Responses to more about projects

  1. check out Jeff Curto’s Photo History – Class 14 Fall 07 – The Atomic Age & New Frontiers podcast for a gazillion ways of working.

    jerry uelsmann advocated the idea of post-visualization. he went around collecting photographs then looked for ways to combine them into photomontage images.

    i’m not suggesting that you try photomontage (though there’s nothing to stop you doing it :), but that pre-visualization is not the only way to go.

    one thing this ma course has shown me is how incredibly diverse people’s working practices are. there’s everything from the 3-day set up for one shot to instinct-driven, off-the-cuff snaps to, yes, photomontage.

    there’s no need to get hung up on the weston/adams way of doing things. just use what works for you. a series can be shot in 30 minutes (remember that ‘lines’ one i did a couple of years ago) or over the course of years… it could also be assembled in hindsight. it can be brought together as plain images, or the images can be linked by text, music, poetry, etc. it’s p to you, yeah?

    mind you, working in series is a lot easier if you standardize some of your shooting parameters, e.g. a mix of landscape and portrait formats is going to be awkward to integrate into a series. not impossible… just awkward.

    the important thing is to have fun. if constraining yourself to shooting in a particular way or for a particular project sounds like fun to you then by all means do, otherwise just do what feels good. interesting things can happen when you do that ; )

  2. Julie, I’ve read your post a number of times and am only replying now. Unfortunately, Neil said it all. I’m more of a post-visualization type. I, like you, shoot whatever feels right.

    I like to roam about with the camera and what I shoot tends to go with what I feel at the moment. Also, I’m not constrained at all as to my subjects. I like to take pictures of most anything, except dilapidation, which doesn’t interest me much unless the light is just to sweet to resist.

    I’ve thought of projects, too; however, they are usually a result of pictures that I’ve already taken, not those that I will take. It’s kind of like trying to ‘find’ your own style. The harder you look, the more it eludes you. When you stop trying to find it, it finds you. It’s quite paradoxical. I feel that projects, if we do them, are similar given the way we work. We go along snapping happily at whatever pleases us and then one day, *poof*, a project appears. We didn’t go looking for it, nor did we purposefully try to do it, but the images just feel into place. Now, all we need to do is to edit them, which is quite a task in and of itself.

    You probably have a number of projects underway that you don’t even know about yet. Don’t worry. They will present themselves when the time is right. In the mean time, just keep on shooting and having a great time!

  3. […] need not always be told. For an interesting read, check out Julie’s post on the topic of projects. As for me, if I were to do a project, it would be after the fact. I usually don’t find good, […]

  4. You could perhaps use images that you’ve already taken in your explorations as the foundation and inspiration for a project. That way you’d be basing it from your own experience, not images that you’ve previously seen, but still heading towards a cohesive set of images ?

  5. I think there’s definitely something to be said for using existing stuff as a starting point. It’s so easy to get caught up in the ‘should’ of photography, as Paul blogged about recently too – ‘I should work on a project’ being my achilles heel… but I’ve been doing a bit of work on pulling together some threads of ideas, I put a couple of sets together on my site and I’m hoping to progress with that for the moment. Watch this space ;)

    Thanks for the responses, all.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *