Musings on Photography

Projects and Finishing

Posted in process by Paul Butzi on December 17, 2008


Kjell Harald has an interesting post on his blog:

In a project, the main focus is always to finish. Why should I care about finishing my photography…. I don’t want to do that. I want to keep on doing it. Oh, it doesn’t mean you have to stop photographing, you just finish a project and move on to the next. Well, maybe I don’t want to do that either. I love shooting some of the subjects I do, I don’t want to stop doing that either. I can fool myself into believing I have finished a project, but when I look through the files later, it is obvious that I just continued shooting the subject.

Go read the whole thing. There isn’t a bit there with which I’d disagree.

And yet.

I photograph in projects. That is, I think of myself as working in definite projects. The thing is, I don’t view these projects as having a definite end. I view them as projects which spin off interesting side products from time to time. A portfolio, maybe. A show in a gallery – that’s a common one, because I have a once a year slot in a group gallery, so I need to cough up a show once a year, more or less. Now I’ve got books that get spun out.

But the prints, the shows, the books – I understand how there are people who make those things, and that’s the terminal point for the project, and once those things are done, the project is finished. But for me, they’re just more side effect – a side product that gets spun out as an inevitable part of the process. Those things don’t have to be the endpoint of the process.

I worked for years, photographing on the coast. I made a lot of bad photos, and I made what I think is a large handful of pretty good ones. I did several shows. At some point, I stopped making trips to the coast. The project stopped progressing. I suppose I could say that it’s done, but honestly, I still find the coast pretty interesting photographically. Maybe I’ll go to the coast, do some more photography, and the project will start moving again. It isn’t over ’til the fat lady sings, and I just never seem to get to that point.

The word “project” is, as Kjell and others have pointed out, a word with some significant baggage. It’s important to remember that we should feel free to pick different words to describe what we do, and not feel pressured to use words that define the process rather than describe it. And, of course, the process that I like will not be the process that you like. That’s not a problem, that’s a feature. We don’t all have the same goals. We don’t all have the same skills, or experience the same rewards. And that’s ok.

Sometimes I get email that asks why I spend so much time describing my own process when I acknowledge that other people are, by necessity, going to have different goals and different processes. It’s simple. I write about process because I believe that talking about this stuff is helpful, and I write about my process because it’s the only one I on which I can be an expert. Who’s the expert on your process? You are.

So go write about it.

3 Responses

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  1. Frank Armstrong said, on December 19, 2008 at 9:47 am

    Paul: Seems “pry the camera from my cold dead hand” is appropriate here. It’s how I feel, also. If ever I’m so unfortunate to be forced into a wheel chair, the first accessory will be a tripod head mounted on one of the arms. And so long as my index finger can apply downward pressure enough to trip the shutter I’ll still be trying to make one more image. I assume that my projects will live beyond me because they are meaningful images that mark a certain place at a certain time, and that another whole generation of photographers have seen and be influenced by the work, or by me as a teacher. At least I hope that will be my legacy.


  2. forkboy said, on December 19, 2008 at 5:23 pm

    Odd…when I worked to create a group Flickr and WordPress site with some fellow Flickites I never really thought much about it being a project.

    We each take turns selecting a theme/topic for the month and then shot for it. Very simple. Very general. Very much open for interpretation. But a project never-the-less.

    And I wonder if I could call the photo shot with my daughter a project? I had a distinct idea in mind, came back, did the shooting, processed and uploaded to Flickr. That sounds project-like.

    But as an amateur I guess I don’t feel like they are projects, but more part of the learning curve. Or the exploration curve (not that professionals don’t learn and explore).

  3. Gordon McGregor said, on January 5, 2009 at 2:22 pm

    Personality no doubt plays in to this quite a bit.

    If I don’t set deadlines for myself, then things don’t get done so quickly. In fact, typically they don’t get done at all, because other things end up taking priority.

    Making prints, editing, framing, hanging, showing in a gallery, all requires a date for it to be done, or I’ll never do it.

    Same with a project on topic ‘x’ If the end point is just ‘when I die’ then that’s when it’ll be finished and nothing will actually be finished.

    I know some don’t like the idea of having to be productive when it comes to doing photography, but if your aim is to have 10 good prints in a year (as an example) then it sure helps to take more than 1 picture a month to get there.

    Same with the idea that you’d like to take 1 good picture in a year, or 1 good picture in a lifetime. At some point you have to knuckle down and do some work and take some pictures.

    If it takes a start and end point, a time line, and a ‘project’ to make you do it, then that’s what it takes.

    If you are wired differently and hate those notions, then wandering around with a camera and never defining an end point is also a perfectly valid approach. It might not produce any finished pieces of work, but that’s okay too – except maybe you won’t get to show your images or get much public display (which again is a reasonable thing not to want to do too)

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