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Monday, 15 August 2016


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I'm too lazy for "projects", but I have been revisiting Sandy Hook, NJ (part of Gateway National Park) for years. I can see it evolve: the old gun emplacements age slowly but the beach has waves that can take years to go in and out. Then there are storms that reform areas overnight...

One of the fun things is that I have shot the same chunks of old Christmas trees (buried to stabilize the beach) in many different ways each time. There is a blob of concrete that seems to rise and sink in the water on the same beach... over years.

And there are the painted bunkers slowly falling apart - I need to get back there. I haven't shot there for way too long - working on the house instead. But, no rush... I only have to beat rust.

Sometimes a project sneaks up on you. You just have to recognize the opportunity and work really hard to use it... oh, crap.

If you're a landscape shooter and you go out all the time to shoot landscapes, is that a project?

[Well, I'd say no, but you're the artist, you decide. That's the beauty of it. --Mike]

Really enjoyed this piece! I think much of it applies to other creative work, too (i.e. writing).

One other aspect of shooting a project, not touched on in your peice, that can be important is the sequencing or flow of the pictures. This is hard to master and I only really became aware of it the first time a gallerist the helped me hang a set of images. Her adjustment of my intended hang massively improved my exhibition!

I basically only shoot projects -- it gives me a reason to shoot, though the discovery of the project may have resulted from a random shot. So I guess I don't "always" shoot projects, for instance those times between projects.

My most recent project is some nighttime street work in Brooklyn, with a flash. I was after a certain look that not all the pics I took had, in terms of movement and mood, but that's all part of the editing process. Here it is with some thoughts and very mixed feelings about street photography these days


Don't want to be that guy, but I think you mean jibe not jive.

"I just had the feeling that I wanted to keep going back to the same ideas, knowing that they would be different, but still the same."

Harry Callahan, 1977

I won't go down the "body of work" rabbit hole , even though it is so tempting.
I'll just mention that using Google street view and 3D Google earth is one way of pre-scouting interesting locations.

A possible complication which may occur if you let the project run for too long is that you (the photographer) change during the project. I believe that the reason for this is that each picture that you see or take will have an influence on your future ones - often only slightly, but sometimes powerful. Whatever the reason, this effect may possibly weaken the coherence of the finished work.

The older I get, the more I like color, and I do find b&w becoming just irritating and faux artistique. With the tech of today, there is no need for b&w no more, a soso color photo gets easily more interesting if you change it in b&w with lots of contrast. A good color photo is much more difficult to make, b&w is just the easy way. And also, I'm getting old and grumpy.....

[I feel the opposite, although I can enjoy color when it's well done. The old knocks against color, that it's arbitrary, decorative, and literal, still hold true for me. I could look at B&W photographs all day (provided the technique is competent or better) but I tire of color pictures after a while. When I see a search page of images my eye will zero right in on the B&W shots every time and those are the ones I want to see bigger. A matter of personal taste, except that the standard has definitely shifted--virtually all serious photography used to be B&W and now photography is overwhelmingly color. I do agree that photographers starting now or doing serious work now should probably engage with color and leave B&W alone. --Mike]

Mike, you write: "...it's arbitrary, decorative, and literal." Those aren't necessarily your positions, you're summarizing once prevalent thought. But this raises several questions. First, is color any more arbitrary than gray levels? It's certainly more varied, but more arbitrary? Is color photography necessarily decorative? What's evil about "decorative" anyhow? Is it impossible for a good photograph to also be interesting and enjoyable to look at? And the same questions apply to "literal." If there's validity at all in the anti-color position, it's an objection to the production of bad color photographs, and it's certainly possible to make bad photographs in color. I've done it a lot. But it's also possible to make bad photographs in black and white. I've made my share of those, too. So what?

[Not really our topic here today. We can certainly discuss this, but I'd much rather do it when I'm not on vacation and have more time to write and deal with comments. --Mike]

I've slowly become better at organizing what I shoot, which in turn helps me think in terms of ongoing "projects." To use your term, these are essentially digital stacks that I keep sorting through and occasionally re-stacking. I keep the stacks online, and yes, I should probably duplicate it on my computer in some way better than the original import folders, but I haven't yet. It would certainly help with making books or some other end product.

Here's an example...


In some cases, I have "discovered" a project while looking through old files where I find a trend or interest that I did not recognize when I made the shots. I may not use any of the old photos, but it gives me an insight into what may be a profitable direction for a project.

I read, in an interview, that a lot of Lee Friedlander's categories were discovered after he shot them. He would realize that he had shot hundreds of pictures of a car he was in, from the inside. There were a number like that that he would recognize as a project, post shooting. It resonates with me and the way that I shoot.

So Mike, how DID that Japanese maple do this year?

I love those trees but Colorado is a little bit rough for most of them.

[Just great. It's fully leafed and apparently healthy. I'm thinking of getting it pruned. --Mike]

This is a good photographic topic, Mike. There's certainly no reason why a single photograph or photographic experience shouldn't inspire you to pursue a deeper and/or longer investigation. That's actually how my longest-term "project" began in 2004, with a single photograph that suggested greater possibilities. That project continues for me today.

But just what represents a "project"? Some think of their vacation snaps as a project. I define a photographic "project" along art world lines. Let me see if I can construct a concise definition for a personal photo project:

"A personal (non-commercial) photographic project represents the intentional pursuit of a subject along conceptual and/or investigatory lines, resulting in an end-product of two or more images."

I think that definition works for me as it encompasses all of my projects as well as those of others that I know of.

I have two points here. First, and most important, regardless of what you call your camera work just have fun with it. Make it meaningful and/or commemorative to you.

Secondly, I believe strongly in the vast potential of working creatively with premeditation. Yes, back-loading a "project" through retrospective selection can be fun. (I know a very prominent photographer who filled an entire museum show with such work!) But you'll learn and gain little from it. Photographic projects are absolutely essential especially for amateurs to strengthen image-making skills. Professionals become stronger by tackling challenging and complex assignments. Amateurs must push themselves to expand their skills through self-assigned projects whether they're one-day or multi-year, globe-trotting or backyard. Learning to express yourself with your camera, beyond "gee that's pretty", is how you develop a voice with your lens. Anybody can take a picture today. (And nearly everybody does!) Few have developed any communication skills with their camera.

When I shoot a documentary, they usually "surprise" me. I start shooting a subject and the project appears.
I recently completed a project in the Baja re: the local brickmakers and it surprised ME!
It will soon be in print.
I try to shoot locals with interesting jobs (at least for us gringos).
Just saying.
Mi dos pesos.

I've never thought of projects until I was well into a set of photos, when I could lay them out and think, "Oh. So this is what I'm doing." And then I'd do it consciously until at some point a voice would say "enough" and I'd go on. But I usually make the same set of pictures--I can see in what I shot last week vestiges of what I shot 40 years ago.

I don't know this is completely on topic but we took a week's vacation in Iceland this past June. We did a road trip around the Ring Road and naturally I brought cameras: my Pentax K-1 with a couple of lenses. And a tripod to utilize the pixel-shift mode, which I used once to make four exposures. Figures.

The Icelandic landscape is barren and desolate and I wasn't sure how to approach it. I found myself channeling Timothy O'Sullivan, and maybe Eliot Porter and now that I think of it, Minor White. I made a lot of stitches...but the project aspect: I have an abiding disdain for conceptual photography because most of the concepts are pretty pedestrian. Plus, I'm really not interested in photos that illustrate pages of verbiage explaining to me why I should appreciate the photos or the concept they claim to illustrate. I think it was Lee Friedlander who observed, "They're pictures. You look at them."

So I'm walking about another waterfall in another rain and I look down and see footprints and think, "Conceptual parody!" I decide, as a joke for a friend, to shoot a couple of footprints, make really nice renderings, and write about how these photos are a protest against the degradation of scenic grandeur by people visiting it.

I get home and begin working with the files and Damn! if I don't like the footprints as photographs. Which leads to a little Minor White-esque portfolio of rocks and things, the close-ups I shot because I couldn't quite reconcile the landscape. Who'd a thunk it?

Is it a project? I don't know; I've been pretty busy just processing files to shoot a lot more. But it was a surprise.

[The photos (some of them) are up at https://www.facebook.com/jay.pastelak for those who might want to see them.]

I've often found that when there's something I need to do and don't know where to start, the thing is to do the bit I can, then see what's left. This is not totally dissimilar to Mark L. Power's "Shoot, think, shoot."

Try your best to think of meaning, or feeling, and not just prettiness.

I appreciate this sentence a lot and will be referring to it when I feel it might help with a student's direction (or my own).

P.S. I love projects.

I spent a great deal of time in the woods during my boyhood. Just loved it, still do. I set out two winters ago to photograph trails and trees here in the southern U.S. Ended up with many fine shots with the aim of presenting it as a total work. A project for sure. But a critic was unimpressed with it... and on many points he was correct. I ended up not with a unified work but just the best of the single images. All black and white.
Many of these scenes mean a great deal to me personally, beyond caring what anyone else thinks about them. They are on my walls as well as my website. Many lessons learned. I have two other projects that are more long term due to needing to get back to their location.
A very good subject here with many good comments.

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