It’s the semi-official start or summer here in the US today. Connecticut has a vaccination rate of 50% and the requirement for mask wearing indoors has been dropped in many businesses for those that are vaccinated. So the summer may look relatively normal. I hope it will be where you are too!
Beginning in January I posted on Instagram every other day as a challenge to make more images. It’s been fun, but also hard, to come up with something to post given the geographic restrictions. In the next week or so I will take a deeper look at what I’ve created, how I’ve created it and what I’ve posted.
At a higher level what I think that I’ve learned in the last 6 months is how to see life. To slow down and take time to recognize the every day things that I might otherwise have walked by in the hurry over everyday life.
Previously I had thought that photography happens on trips or when I had a special time set aside not as part of my regular day. This was the only way to hold back the chaos and make mental space to create. Now I know I don’t need this but can be creative in and around home and daily life. An important lesson to learn.
I’be been thinking about projects over the last few weeks. You might call it a series, others might call it a portfolio but for me all of my photography sits as part of at least one of a number of on-going projects. I picked up this way of working from one of the earliest workshops I did online with Bill Neill.
I had been thinking about initial ideas and how to develop them into a rich body of work when I started to think about what’s the goal? What would success look like? When would I know that I was done?
I must admit though that I never feel like I’m ‘done’. I just keep looking for images that will either raise the standard of the work that’s in my project or that will extend it in some way. But I had never thought about it being done.
It was encouraging then to listen to an interview with Michael Kenna who said something similar. That he’s never really done but an exhibition or a book deadline line will cause him to bring a group of images together that suits the need. He keeps working though and extends the work beyond the exhibition or book.
Other people that I’ve been listening to have discreet projects – I’m going to photograph here for a week, a month, a year and then after that time I’ve got what I’ve got and I’ll move on to the next project. Even then some of these photographers look for a milestone event such as an exhibition or a book to signal being done.
I like the idea of getting your project out into the world as an exhibition, a pdf, a chapbook, zine or larger book as a signal that the work is done. If only that means that chapter of the work is finished.
How about you. How do you know when you’re done with a chapter or the whole project? I’d be interested to hear about it.
I have been thinking about a framework that I can use as scaffolding for my on-going and future projects. In other areas of my life I have found that having a flexible road map for what you’re working on to be enormously helpful in actually getting projects out of the door. As part of this process I have been deconstructing some of the basic assumptions that have served me well up to now and trying to reassemble them. Unfortunately I have parts left over which means either I’ve found a better way or broken something.
I started with vision, which I had interpreted as the way that you see the world. Looking at a dictionary definition of vision I found that vision was described as:
the faculty or state of being able to see.
the ability to think about or plan the future with imagination or wisdom.
mental image of what the future will or could be like.
Or to put it another way vision is the change that you want to cause to happen. For instance it could be telling the story and raising awareness of a disenfranchised group of society, shining a spotlight on the growing crisis of climate change, or mobilizing people to stop using the ocean as a dumping ground.
Vision therefore is not really unique, I know there are many others that are concerned about the state of the oceans and share the vision of clean oceans that will be able to support a diverse population of marine life. How you express that vision and work to effect change most certainly could, and should be, if you draw on and incorporate the experiences that have shaped you.
Growing up I spent an awful lot of time at the pool and it looks as though I’m going to be doing so again, although not in the water this time.
While sat watching my kids do laps I wondered whether I could use the time to develop a project, one that goes beyond the snapshots of the kids at the pool. It’s fun to start these projects, I find finishing them much harder.
One of the things that I continue to struggle with is ‘why do I photograph’?
There are of course many reasons to photograph, having your photography being in service of something larger is awesome, being able to tell stories with your images and to capture a moment in history is clearly important. Doug Eng is someone who does this incredibly well.
Doug is a Florida native with a background in structural engineering and software programming who works in both the natural and urban landscape. In fact some of his projects have involved bringing the natural landscape into the urban environment.
For an example of this work check out the ‘Beyond the Facade’ project where Doug installed huge prints on the east facade of the old Barnett Bank building. The behind the scenes section (click here) gives a fascinating look at how art on this scale is created and handled.
I was fortunate to recently hear Doug present his project ‘On Fertile Ground’ which captured images of the last property of his family’s truck farm providing a record of his family’s successes for future generations. I was profoundly impacted by these photographs, they made me really feel that the farm stopped while the world moved on.
I came out of Doug’s presentation thinking that everyone with a camera, which means almost all of us now, should spend some time documenting their family history.
It is surprising to me that in the UK there is a TV series that answers the question “What Do Artists Do All Day?“. Perhaps we really are living in the era of the creative as Chase Jarvis tells us. Having blown the best part of a day watching these videos my favorite had to be the one that shows printmaker Norman Ackroyd producing one of his large scale prints. In reading about David Hockney I was fascinated to learn more about the etching process to prepare prints and to see a master in action, in the videos below, adds another level of understanding. It’s amazing to me that such delicate watercolors can be produced by working on a copper plate with the added level of complexity that the work on the plate has to be done in reverse. Ackroyd has his reference image set up in a mirror to facilitate this seeing in reverse.
I was struck by the nature of Ackroyd’s project – to make images of the outlying islands of the British Isles – and that he tracks where he’s been using push pins on a map of the british isles. This of course has parallels with the Atlantic Basin project of Thomas Joshua Cooper. His work references watercolors that he’s made on location which is quite an undertaking in itself. A collection of his watercolor sketches from the Shetland islands is available and this work will be the subject of an exhibition later in 2014.
Check out a day in the life of Norman Ackroyd in the videos below.
In looking to see how other people have documented the Pacific Northwest I came across the book ‘Beneath Cold Seas‘ by photographer David Hall. While this is not the kind of photography I usually gravitate towards the photographs are undeniably compelling. I particularly like the juxtaposition of what’s going on below and above the surface as in the photograph of sockeye salmon above. Photographer Hall completed this body of work over a period of 16 trips to British Columbia between 1995 and 2010. I can only imagine how technically challenging this type of photography must be, managing both scuba gear and bulky camera equipment that’s made even bulkier by the underwater housings that you need to protect them. Then of course the water’s cold.
What is striking to me is how colorful much of the marine life is. Something I thought that you had to go to the tropics to see. To see more of David’s work visit his website – www.seaphotos.com and watch the gallery of his images below.
I recently came across the following quote from Thea Astley:
‘If you write a page a day it adds up to a book in a year’
I like the idea here – steady and consistent progress will get you over the finish line. For photographers what does this mean? I think as it is for writers, doing something every day on your project will mean that eventually you’ll have a real and tangible product.
One of the harder tasks for us as photographers is being able to work on our project everyday, especially when we have the weather to contend with or difficult schedules to work around. I use the ‘Natural Planning Model’ that David Allen describes in his ‘Getting Things Done‘ book to go through and break out all of the tasks that a project involves. The natural planning model involves 5 basic steps:
1. Defining purpose and principles
2. Outcome visioning
5. Identifying next actions
Hear David Allen talk more about this by clicking below:
This allows me to generate an an inventory of everything that I could be doing to move my project along.
Using the book project that I’m working on at the moment as an example – assuming that the shooting will take care of itself, there are still lots of decisions around everything else to be made:
Physical size of the book?
Hardback or Paperback?
How many images?
Thubnails at the end?
Once each of these questions has been answered there is then the obligatory question of ‘What’s the next step?’ Using this approach I have a laundry list of things that I can be doing when I’m not shooting to help help keep the project moving forward and I’m sure that you would too.