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Friday, 31 March 2023


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I think your synopsis is good, Mike. Projects may be work units within a process. But more closely projects may involve processes.

Now let’s move on to photographic projects and processes!

Scott Shumann’s Sartoralist and Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York remind me of the long lasting project Exactitudes by Arie Versluis and Ellie Uyttenbroek. They are based in Rotterdam but expanded their concept all over the world. It’s a simple idea. But they went on and on and now it not only has an anthropological value but also a historical one.
(Click on the pages to enlarge).

I consider myself an expert photographer having been at it since age 13 (I'm now 78), have graduated from two schools of photography, taught in one of them briefly, and have been a 'professional', meaning that it was my job and it paid my bills at various points full-time or part-time. Doing "projects" feels like a job to me. I've done a few non-paid self-assigned projects but I find that I burn out quickly on them. A dozen or two photos into a project and it feels repetitive. It feels like a job.

My photography has evolved to the point that it isn't about the act of photographing anymore than holding a pen is the point of writing. I'm still interested in learning the technical aspects but my photography isn't an end in itself. It's a tool for relating to the world around me, to the things and (occasionally) people who interest or excite me. It is a method for connecting with my subject matter on a deeper level. Some days I will make no photographs. Some weeks I make no photographs. I don't consider the lack of photos so much a failure or lapse as it reflects a lull in my enthusiasm for life and experiencing the world around me. Is photography as a way of relating a "project"?

I have not made many worthwhile photographs while wandering around purposelessly.

To do work that I think is worth doing, I need a project to provide focus, discipline, audience, format, approach, goals -- everything.

Caveat: There can be real value in roaming around aimlessly with a camera, snapping away at things if that provides exercise (to keep in the groove), allows for practising different ways of working, trying out different subjects, or just exploring ideas. Sometimes projects emerge from this kind of photography.

People who are photographer see the world differently that the average person. Just go out and shoot. You don't need to make a project out of it. By obsessing on the project rather than actually taking a photograph limits your creative process.

Gym shoes does just fine for sports footwear over here. As does plimsolls, daps and tennis shoes, basketball boots and probably quite a few others. Trainers here tend to be things that look like football (soccer) boots but without the studs. At least they started out that way, but fashion took over and now they can look like tennis shoes, football boots, hiking boots and even things you'd expect to have wheels or blades bolted to the sole.

Thinking a bit about your struggles with novel length works, I suspect one of your issues is that novels tend to be written by people who feel compelled to write them rather than by people who think they ought to. It gets them over the hurdles. My 16 year old daughter has written several fan fiction novels and has several more on the goal. She spends her breaks on the garden swing acting out the plots in her head. She just can't stop writing. I don't think it matters if it ever amounts to anything, but you need that uncontrollable obsession, I suspect.

"when you find yourself engaged in a project that's either not working or not getting your juices flowing, it's okay to shut it down and think up something else to do."
I learned this from a bastard of a boss many years ago. He was adamant that once you could tell a project was in trouble and unfixable, stop it and walk away immediately to cut your losses. (Humorous aside: he was also the guy who liked 3 martini lunches and during one told a magazine editor about a project that was one of those failures - "Every product shipped crapped out," were his words.)
But I would add that it's good - and generally important - to understand why it failed and see if it implies changes to the next or other projects.
I apply these principles to almost everything I do - writing and business especially. I've had 13 million words published but probably have written another million that were discarded. I evaluate business related processes and products regularly and stop the ones that don't work out.

This principle holds for things too. I loved the Nikon D100, didn't like the D200 and sold it quickly, loved the D300 and the pictures show that. I used Oly M4/3 for almost a decade before I bought a Pen-F from the looks but never liked using it - gone. I've done the same with cars, kept several only a few months before I sold them because I never bonded with them.

To offer a clarification on the "process or project" person, one should understand it's not a value judgement. The world needs both kinds and either way can be personally satisfying. A project person like me can thoroughly enjoy a process. For example, I used to create large custom calendars for friends' presents every holiday season. One year the photos were of cross sections of fruit from our farm, backlit by an old slide viewer. The process of creating those photos was extremely satisfying - trying ways to section fruit and vegetables to get the best visual effects, working with exposure to bring out the best detail, then working with all the images to get a consistent version for the calendar. I loved the calendar but the process of making it was equally satisfying.

I’m really glad you added that section titled Energy. For me, that’s a much better and more applicable way of describing how I work. “Project” and “Process” (for me) are too rigid, narrow, and unnecessarily contained concepts for creative work. Once something is named (e.g., “car” or “tree”), it’s hard for many to see beyond that name.

“Energy,” on the other hand (for me) is fluid and indefinite enough to be flexible to contain quite a lot of differences. Plus, it echoes what I said some time ago re: this line of thought you’ve been exploring - my work is dependent on my reaction and interaction (energy) to my work. If it’s stimulating, challenging, satisfying, and even frustrating to me, it will engage me and keep me working on it.

I’ve leaned more into Lee Friedlander’s description he noted in his book, “Self Portrait”: “These self portraits… we’re not done as a specific preoccupation… they came about slowly and not with a plan but more of a discovery each time.” Who knows if this is literally true? Maybe Friedlander. But I can say (for me), I’ve found that the results in my work and looking at my own work is the best way to discover where it’s taking me. I let my eye dictate where I’m going rather than my head.

And no I don’t feel attacked or needing to defend myself. Merely presenting a different way of working.

As always, a stimulating piece, Michael.

"...photography is more rewarding when you have some sort of defined project you're pursuing."
I think it was the late Bill Jay who wrote an article called "The Subject Matters". Might have been Fred Picker; I can't remember now. But there it is, in three words.

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