Musings on Photography

On Projects and Process

Posted in motivation, process by Paul Butzi on January 9, 2007

Lately, it seems like the theme in the photo world is ‘projects’.  It’s the hot item on various photo blogs; it the hot item in LensWork magazine.  Everyone is talking about projects; everyone is suddenly discussing how they work in projects.

So here’s my take.  I know that there are folks who have a clear cut process; they decide on the subject for a project, then they develop the concept, they set goals, they go out and make the images, and then they’re done.

 That’s not the way it works for me.  It doesn’t matter how much I want to have a clear cut process; no matter how much I try to decide where I want the project to go, it doesn’t work.  I set out in one direction and it’s like pushing a rope.  The photographs I come home with are not the photographs I set out to make – they’re something else, instead.  Just when I think I’ve got something figured out, and that the project is going to proceed in some sensible way, things take a sudden turn and suddenly everything is heading in a new direction. 

Other photographers have a linear, understandable process that they can describe.  I’ve got a process that’s like stumbling around in a dark room with no windows; eventually, I bump against the light switch by accident and the lights come on.  But no sooner does that happen than I seem to have stumbled through the door, and I’m in the next room (and in the dark again).  I’ve tried four times over the past two weeks to write something coherent about how things work for me, and all of the others are worse than this one. 

When I try to write about this stuff, I’m reminded of what Frank Zappa said: “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” 

Of course, it’s always possible that I’m just a clueless pretender, too.  But if you happen to be one of those folks whose process seems to defy introspection, at least you know you’re not alone.

6 Responses

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  1. Gordon said, on January 9, 2007 at 8:59 am

    I feel like a clueless pretender most days, so at least I know I’m not alone now 😉

    I think the reason it seems like everyone is on the theme of projects is the time of the year – resolutions and all that for the New Year. Lenswork just arrived so I don’t know what it has to say on the topic, but Brooks is always banging on about the power of process and projects, in his podcasts.

  2. Rosie Perera said, on January 9, 2007 at 9:31 am

    I think your experience is consistent with art being a verb. It’s a way of discovering something new (turning on the lights in a dark room), not of having something to say and setting about saying it with a well planned project.

  3. Mark Hobson said, on January 9, 2007 at 9:33 am

    The word “project” may be hot right now but the process of creating coherent bodies of photographic work is certainly nothing new.

    The pantheon of great photographers is crammed to the brim of its domed circular temple with photographers whose bodies of work give testament to the value of working in “projects” – a project being a series of photographs linked together by a theme, a common subject, an overriding concept, idiosyncratic technique, etc. Photographers who have/had the vision thing going.

    Most photographer, great and small, who have the vision thing going have discovered a personal passion for something other than just taking pictures. The passion becomes an unavoidable must-do, a focus, an obsession. Discovering a passion is very different from “chosing a subject”, “developing a concept” and “setting goals”.

    Out of the desire to give voice to a passion, a photographic technique that flows from the passion is developed/adopted as part of the vision. The technique developed is most often felt to be “owned” by the photographer, that is to say, part and parcel of their idiosyncratic voice. It is the mechaniccs of how they see.

    For a photographer with vision, when the passion and the technique gel, there is simply no other course of action. Nothing else is conceivable. The work pours forth. A coherent body of work – a “project”, if you will (although some “projects” last a lifetime) – is inevitible.

    Maybe your “problem” is that you haven’t discovered your passion.

  4. Mark Hobson said, on January 9, 2007 at 10:08 am

    PS – the process of finding your passion/vision is rarely a “clear cut process”. Most often it’s a rather messy affair and involves a lot of “rope pushing” and “stumbling around”.

    So, perhaps, even though you haven’t discovered your passion, you’re on the road to find out.

  5. Joe Reifer said, on January 10, 2007 at 9:32 am

    I love that Zappa quote. If you add the Brion Gysin quote “writing is 50 years behind painting,” where does that leave us?



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