Monday, May 07, 2007

Projects - For And Against

It's been written that any serious photographer shoots projects rather than simply randomly snapping away at anything that catches his eye. Publishers prefer work to have a single theme and reviewers expect presented work to be cohesive.

There are valid reasons for encouraging or even insisting on a project. it certainly better tests a photographer - what can you do with a particular idea. It gives a better sense of depth - a single good image on a particular subject might just be luck or hard work rather than talent or skill, but a whole body of work on the same theme suggests the photographer is worth paying attention to.

On the other hand, there are problems with presenting your work in project form. This came to me as I was checking out some photographers to recommend. They either uniformly concentrate on a particular subject or they present dozens of shots on a particular theme, and after the first 4 or 5 images, it became a matter of 'oh, another one'.

I don't think this is fair to the work - it's quite possible that had the subsequent images been presented first, each might have been much better appreciated. Had the photographer presented more variation in images, I might have been happier to keep looking.

One could make the argument that if the images of the project are strong enough, they will withstand such perusal, but I'm not sure that's true. Perhaps it's just my own short attention span but I like a bit of variety in the images I see. I like my Weston nudes mixed with his other images.

For my own work - I know damn well I can't count on making every image on a theme outstanding - sure I can put together a body of work consisting of good work, but I can tell you that whatever the category or project, I will always have a few favourites and anticipate that viewers are likely to be the same, even if their few doesn't match mine.

I think that perhaps part of the problem is that too many images within a project look much like each other - same view point and lens, similar lighting, same subject matter. It isn't a matter of image quality - they can be very strong - but if they are too similar to other images in the project, then when they come along second or third or 17th, they sure do lose impact.

Perhaps this says something about the size of a project or of a category on your website - I lump all my B&W industrial images together, but perhaps I'm making a mistake in doing so. Not sure yet. As the images get more numerous, the problem is only likely to become worse. I don't like the idea of multiple levels of subcategories.

When I finally get round to designing a good website, I'll have to think about this.


Stuarte said...

As a relative newcomer to the world of fine art photography (onlooker, not creator, yet), I'm not sure I've correctly understood what you mean by "project". I presume it means thematic by subject, such as "flowers" (a la Mapplethorpe).

Is it not possible for a collection to be united by an emotional or conceptual theme (e.g. nostalgia, home, progress, ambiguity) that allows for a greater variety of subjects and encourages the photographer (and viewers) to create their own connections between the images?

doonster said...

I think "project" infers a concerted effort to focus on a given theme. I agree with George that this leads the viewer (this one anyway) to the "oh, another one" feeling.
If, on the other hand, a photog prefers capturing images of a limited number of themes, and then collects them together over time, two things show:
One is the love of the given subjects. if you are concentrated on a few (rather than 1) subjects over time, that implies they are subjects that you care about. that begins to show.
The second is a feeling of development, a sort of artistic journey. the body develops over time, matures and encomapsses a range of feelings about the given subject.

Both these aspects deliver more to the viewer than a concerted "here's a theme" effort, IMO. It might even be that, through shooting the subjets that one loves, the themes develop organically rather than deliberately.

Anonymous said...

Projects have their place, but too many publishers use them as a staunch bellwether for their submission cuts. Even Brooks Jensen, as straight forward and as sensible as he seems, does not like publishing simple collections of images (unless your John Sexton, but he deserves it!)

I wouldn't mind seeing a loose collection published every once in a while as it could give great insight into the working thoughts and overall talents of the photographer. Take Georges Lenswork profile. At face value, it would seem all he shot were industrial sites when we know that is not true as his work has now extended all the way to self-portrait nudes.

Projects are a great learning tool, though, as they force you to work through the boredom and complacency to see images you never would have considered on a quick pass through.

Dave New said...

I believe that there is a definite difference between publishing a 'project' (which, by definition, should be confined to perhaps a dozen or so of your very finest images) and just having a thematic collection of your 1sts, 2nds, or maybe even your 3rds just dumped into an Internet gallery.

Many folks (including yours truly), make the mistake of using their Internet galleries as just a holding bin for various categories of images, maybe hoping that some viewer will come upon them and 'discover' the artistic genius that lies within, when in reality, having all that cruft in the way probably goes a lot farther in driving folks away.

Now before everyone jumps all over this, remember that everyone (and everything) serves some purpose. If the online presence you want is something akin to Flickr (or you harbor dreams of being the Next Big Thing in stock photography), then blast (and post) away. Also, the image-a-day blog style certainly has its place, forcing an ongoing conversation with viewers.

But, if you want to see what I consider an understated 'best of' type of web presence, check out

After shooting literally thousands of images in Antartica, his gallery shows 22 of his best. Maybe his PDF style of gallery presentation is not the best, but you get the idea... less is more.