Tuesday, January 02, 2007

More thoughts on project definition

Many people are in the process of starting their Picture a Week projects, New Year's resolutions and that sort of annual re-commitment to the craft. I'm going to throw my hat into that particular ring too, but mostly by continuing to work on projects that I've already been working on, perhaps with a more organised work ethic. I've been re-reading on being a photographer by Hurn & Jay. This second reading, a couple of years removed from the last, is making more sense and I think answering some of the issues that have been jostling around in my brain. I think it will probably stand a few more reads to cement some of the notions, but certainly the idea of projects stands out clearly as the common thread for progress. Along with that is the commitment of working a subject, shooting a lot and critically evaluating the results. Early on, advice is given on selecting projects that seems to jive well with my experience. Succinctly put, the idea is to constrain the project subject matter as much as possible. Focus in on something specific. There's two important concepts in that last sentence - first the idea of focus in on something. Photography is really about the subject matter, not the means that it was captured in. I've spent a lot of time learning techniques or doing clever things with cameras and light but the stand-out images I've taken are always about the subject, not the cleverness with which I captured it. Certainly all the practice and interesting techniques can be well directed to record something in an interesting way, but the best ideas seem to be brought out from an intense interest in something, not photography for the sake of pretty images. Hurn describes this in the negative, as What is the alternative to an emphasis on subject matter ? It is a frantic grasping for instant gratification which all too often leads to works displaying visual pyrotechnics but of dubious depth and resonance. Photographers become pressured into a search for different-ness, a quest for newness which usually means an unusual technique. I see that in a lot of images that win contests or stand out in internet forums. Glitzy, initially dramatic images with large wow factor, but not something I'd want to look at for long or really keep my attention more than for a few minutes. The more satisfying images are always of something. The second key idea above, is to focus in on something specific. I've found the more wide-ranging a theme is, the more likely I am to jump around from idea to idea. If I choose a theme like portraits, I've got 6 billion people in the world to consider as potential subjects. Everyone one that I might be near enough to photograph would get superficial consideration. But if I constrain the idea to just one person, I'll potentially produce a much more in-depth and hopefully interesting series of portraits. Or if I had an idea to photograph flowers, again the scope is huge and wide ranging, but if I decided to specialise in one plant or one species, then the images would be all the stronger for the lack of choice in subject matter. The idea seems to be that the more narrowly defined and constrained the subject is, the less time you'll waste finding a subject and more time actually pointing a camera at it and actually taking pictures. The final key seems to be defining the end point -understanding how many images are needed, what they'll be used for and then working out what shots are needed. This gives a way to measure the progress and helps maintain focus on the right areas - on getting the whole project done, on covering the theme, rather than fixating on something that might be the most visually interesting but only a small part of the whole. I'm sure right now my lovely wife will be telling me to stop waffling on about the process and actually start doing something, so over the next few days I'll post the three project ideas that I'm going to be working through over the next few months. I'll be sharing the images here and also maybe starting to put up contact sheets to show the shots either side of the picked images, which might give some insight into how I get to where I was going. (another concept cribbed from the book mentioned earlier)

11 comments:

L2 said...

Novel approach, Gordon. I've been tossing around how to encompass all my projects, and am currently narrowing down which ones I'm going to focus on this year as well.

Thanks for the excerpt - very interesting.

rennie said...

Well thought approach. Looking forward to it.

Isaac Golding said...

Gordon,

I'm really interested in how your project turns out. I too am at a similar point with my photography in that I am trying to figure out what to do for a project and how to go about it. I find our parrallel journey rather interesting and will keep watching to see how your journey goes. :-)

Mike said...

Hi Gordon,

Firstly, thank you for your various comments to the posts on my blog - I will reply to them later tonight.

This is indeed a very interesting post. As I commented to your post "Ways Forward" I can definetly relate to Jay & Hurn's advice on projects just from the early stages of my own. Of the three I have started, two are well defined, but as you have pointed out the third, people, is too loose. It will be essential for me to focus in on something. I am considering the suggestions you made in your comments.

This post has brought into question my PAW theme of lighting.

I'm trying to get hold of "On Being A Photographer" but the usual UK online book sellers don't have it listed :(.

Dan (Spaz) said...

Thanks Gordon.

I'm having similar issues with photography projects and selecting/defining them in ways that will drive the creation of not just a good image or two, but a cohesive body of work. I've been reading your blog and have found both your posts and the other materials you reference to be of great value.

Ancientimages said...

I believe everything we do prepares us for the next step in our journey. Most find subjects which are of interest to them and learn the techniques they need to materialize the images they see in their minds. You have mastered many techniques and are now ready to fly. I'll be interested to see what you create next.

Jeff said...

I enjoyed your post...very thought provoking.

asim said...

it's going to be fun watching this develop through the year... going for the photo that lasts is a great goal

Obsidian said...

Philosophy and photography meet in the heartland of cyberspace - this is an interesting and entertaining blog, which I look forward to following.

T-Mayer said...

I like the layout of your blog and especially the pencil image in your heading. looking forward to following your blog all year.

Tiffany said...

Gordon- your pics are AMAZING! I have really enjoyed looking through your work. Keep it up- you ROCK!