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Archive for Sunday, October 4, 2009

Behind the Lens: Longtime passion for projects pays off

For 25 years I made a project out of documenting the annual Vinland Fair in Douglas County. The body of work led to a self-published book and an exhibition of photographs at the Lawrence Arts Center on the 100th anniversary of the event.

For 25 years I made a project out of documenting the annual Vinland Fair in Douglas County. The body of work led to a self-published book and an exhibition of photographs at the Lawrence Arts Center on the 100th anniversary of the event.

October 4, 2009

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I hope last week’s column provided an impetus for many of you to create a collection of images in the form of a photography project.

The idea of project-oriented photography is not new. Pick any famous photographer or iconic photograph, and behind that person or image will be a project and a passion for exploring specific subject matter in depth.

Do you recall Edward Weston’s famous photograph titled “Pepper #30”? It is a black-and-white shot, taken with an 8x10 view camera, closely focusing on a curved pepper. The image earned him highest acclaims and is considered one of his greatest photographs. What you may not know is that he took 59 other images of the same pepper.

Likewise, popular landscape photographer Ansel Adams’ iconic images of Yosemite National Park aren’t from a couple of weekend jaunts to the park. His volume of work is a result of a lifelong commitment to photographing the wilderness where he lived and worked.

Two Lawrence photographer friends of mine have engaged themselves in similar types of project work. Tim Forcade has recently created a series of photo-macrography of parts of flowers, resulting in a body of work represented in his new book, “Spectacular Uncertainty.”

On photo road trips with my friend Oz Wille, in addition to his landscape work, Wille has engaged in an ongoing project of photographing old cemetery gates and signs. The creative process of collecting these images has resulted in what is certainly a unique and one-of-a-kind body of work.

Whether you choose to spend a couple of days photographing a lone vegetable or a lifetime framing landscapes in a national park, the repeated exploration of any subject can create memorable photographs and an important body of work of your creation.

From studying other photographers, and from what I recognize in my own project work, establishing a structure is critical. Here are a few tips to help provide structure and get you started on your own project.

1. Have a real interest in your subject. You don’t have to be passionate about it, but you should be interested enough in your subject that you’ll continue to pick up a camera and bring energy and creativity to your work. At a minimum, be passionate about your photography, and it will show in your work.

2. Minimize your tools. The majority of strong project work is done with one camera, one lens and in either black-and-white or color. Simplify your materials and methods, and you will concentrate more on what you see than what you are seeing through.

3. Choose a goal and an audience. Decide how you want to present your completed work. Will it be to friends, family or the community? Plan to reach your goal with an exhibit, a self-published book or a printed portfolio of images.

In my next column, I’ll write about photography workshops — another means of providing motivation to get you busy taking photographs and creating project work.

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