Tuesday, May 02, 2006

What's Your Summer Photo Project?

What's your summer photo project? I was asked this the other day, and even though I had a well thought out answer, I've always considered everything I shoot as a a shade of the one major project that we create over and over. Filmmakers make the same film, musicians write the same songs, painters paint the same painting, photographers make the same photograph. However, when we first choose a meaningful project it is a personal show of confidence, a sign that we are beginning to look at our work seriously, and (God forbid) take ourselves seriously.

I think projects are a good thing, especially when they are created in response to a concept, or an ideology. I love how Walker Evans' conceived his subway project, the work which eventually became the book, Many Are Called. The project idea arose from a strong ideological reaction to classic studio portraiture. Evans' felt compelled to create the antithesis of the studio protrait, and set about on his masterpiece. IMO, the result was very successful, a beautiful and fascinating body of work. To me this is the absolute best approach for a project. The desire to shoot cohesively should be driven by a greater need.

The wrong approach is one wherein the photographer seeks to handicap himself as a means of improving his "skill." Such projects usually entail the photographic equivalent to walking around for three days with your right leg tied back, in the hopes of improving the strength of your left leg. For instance, shooting strictly with a particular focal length, shooting only images within a one block radius of your front door, shooting only things that are the color red, are all handicap-based projects, especially when set about so simply.

For me, a self-imposed project should be an opportunity for discovery, or enlightenment, and it should be something that needs be written down. It doesn't need to be thematically grand, or ideologically driven. It can be driven by emotions and desire, but it should be purposeful and multilayered. For instance, it's one thing to want to photograph the simple beauty and the majesty of an old-growth redwood forest, but to set out to want to explore and convey, along with that beauty, the mysterious and mystical, or a sense of age and time, is taking the project to another level, a level that will challenge the photographer. By adding this additional layer the photographer adds a degree of measurability to the project that will help to determine whether the photographer was successful, or not.

The success of the project is ultimately determined by the viewer, so while a project can be a personal endeavor (and there's nothing wrong with shooting strictly for oneself), the feedback is invaluable, and any serious project should take into account the viewer, or the audience.

I hope to announce the completion of my summer project(s) here, and if anyone else is planning a summer project, and is posting online, and would like someone to view and provide feedback, I'll gladly help out in anyway I can.