Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Ways forward

I’d sent my meandering thoughts on my photography and where I’m going to a few people that I’ve corresponded with over the last year. Paul Butzi was kind enough to take the time to respond and let me share his thoughts with the world. I think Paul sums up a lot of the things I've been struggling with pretty succinctly, so I'm just going to put his response here, in the hope that it can help others.

It seems to me that what you're asking, really, is "now that I've built a skill base, and I have a process in place for working on craft, where do I go from here?"

In my mind, things always tend to play out along the same lines photographers seem to build skills up to a certain point, and then either stall (and continue making what I call onesies - good or great photos that are unrelated thematically), or else they seem to gravitate to working in a more extended project format. It seems like the ability to work in a focused way on projects is the skill that seems to vault photographers up over the stall point that I think you're hitting.

In the book "On being a photographer', by Bill Jay & David Hurn, they talk about working on projects being about developing a plan and working to the plan, having a shot list, etc. I'm sure that's a help to commercially oriented photographers, but for the rest of us, it's of little use. When I work on a project, it seems to be quite a bit less cohesive and planned, and the project often takes unexpected turns in ways I hadn't imagined when I started out. I know other photographers who have little rituals that they use, patterns they use to get engaged with the project in the large. It seems to be different for everyone, and so it seems like each of us has to work it out for him/herself.

The essential ingredient seems to be that the project has to be something about which you care. If you don't care a lot, it will just peter out and die.

So I'd suggest that you pick a subject that you care about, and photograph like crazy. Look at the images you get, and make prints, and put them up where you'll see them all the time. Spend some time thinking about them, about what they say and what ideas you get from the ones you've done, and what you'd like to do next. If you have other photographers nearby, get together with them and show them the prints and listen carefully to what they say - not so much about the individual images so much as the whole body of photos. Often the telling comments are the ones that they just let slip in a casual way - those comments are often about the overall direction they see things taking.

There's a weird thing - the best projects seem to evolve a lot and become addictive, and seem to start to embody things beyond just what's being photographed.


Mike said...

Hi Gordon,

Thanks for sharing Paul's comments. I can certainly relate to the "onesies", a very apt term to describe my photography as I explained in the latest post on my blog.

Paul's views and advice on projects is interesting. I wholeheartedly agree with his point about being different for everyone and needing to work it out for yourself. Before I began working on my projects I spent time looking at how others had approached their work. Everyone seems to have done it differently in one way or another.

When it comes down to it, I'm probably in the Bill Jay & David Hurn camp of needing a plan, however loose it may be, to drive the project forward and keep it on track. Having things "less cohesive" is where I feel I've fallen down in the past. That said, my "In The Flesh" project very much lacks cohesion right now but I know I'll need to give it some shape very soon in order to succeed.

These discussions are proving very helpful in shaping how I can and should take my photography forward.


Gordon said...

I think I'm in the same boat - I need something of a shot list to help me organise my thoughts and get myself moving forward. It doesn't have to be a list that you are slaved to, that never changes though, but it at least reduces the effort to finding the next shot