The great American photographer Sally Mann once told me (paraphrasing madly here—it's been a long time) that she always worried about where the next great picture was going to come from. Or, sometimes, whether it would come along at all. And then she said something like, "and yet it always does." I think a lot of photographers have that worry. TOP reader Euan Forrester, who visited here yesterday, works very hard on self-assigned documentary projects, some of which have engaged him for years, and one of the reasons he wanted to talk to me was that he's between projects and is wondering what the next big project should be. I think it's fair to say that he's worrying about it. (He can chime in with a more accurate word if he'd like to.)
I think readers will recognize this too—it's the feeling you get when you finish a great book and don't know what to read next. I don't know about you, but sometimes I "miss" the just-finished book, as I might miss a departed friend, and sometimes have to make a false start or two while I try to find the next book that's going to engage me.
Of course, it always comes along. Books are many; it's time that's short.
The antidote, probably, is a kind of faith. I got to interview Ralph Gibson a number of years ago—a memorable event for me, although I know Ralph doesn't remember it. He told me that his many years of photographing have given him that faith. He knows he's good enough that when he heads out into the world with a camera around his neck (on a red lanyard, if I recall correctly) he's going to find something. He just doesn't know where, or what; but it's out there.
We all should have that faith, even if it doesn't always pan out. However you manage to make yourself comfortable with a camera in your hand, do it, and you'll find something. The pictures are out there. It's just our willingness to put ourselves in front of them that's needed. For you, it might be more involved than just going for a walk. Maybe you need to plan a trip, or design a project, or collect permissions, or find some way to break the boundaries of your "usual tricks." Whatever it is, go forth. Have faith. Work it. You'll find it. Your next great shot simply can't elude your lens forever.
(Thanks to Euan, Kate, Laurel, and Llew)
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(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Bear.: "This is more of a philosophy for life than a tip for photographers."
Euan Forrester: "Yes, I definitely feel worried about what my next project should be. I would be sad if I wasn't working on a project at all—they've been what have motivated me to continue with photography—but I've been finding myself struggling with finding the motivation to start another one. I think that your advice to break out of the boundaries of my 'usual tricks' was right on. Most of my ideas were safe: they were things that I knew I could succceed at (to whatever level of abililty that I have done before) and I don't find that particularly exciting. Even just describing my ideas to you made me realize that. But you correctly pointed out that I (somewhat accidentally) took a big risk with my last project: showing it in a public way that I found quite scary, challenging, and motivating. I'm not an expert by any means, but I think that taking a big left turn with my next project and doing it in a way that I don't have much experience with and is way outside of my comfort zone is quite interesting, and I'm looking forward to trying. Not knowing whether I'll succeed is maybe the most motivating thing: it's time to move back out onto the ledge."
Richard Alan Fox: "I was an art student in San Francisco from 1971 to 1980. At some point in that decade Ralph Gibson gave a lecture about his work and methods at the former modern art museum on Van Ness Avenue. Paraphrasing my memories he said, 'Always take a position, and do not be afraid to reject it and take another position.' That is what I remember he said and it has been useful in my life since."
robert e: "This may not help with Euan's current dilemma, but may prevent recurrences. Sally Mann gave a reading at our main library when her autobiography came out. During the Q&A afterwards she was asked what advice she'd give to aspiring photographers. She was generous and honest, and one unexpected and immensely valuable nugget is my only note from that event. I paraphrase: 'I make sure I have at least one project ready in the wings—one I can't wait to dig into, and at a stage that needs my full attention and commitment, in order to avoid that inevitable, awful feeling of loss and purposelessness I get when I finish a project and don't know what to do next.'"