Musings on Photography

Moving Forward

Posted in process, Solo Photo Book Month by Paul Butzi on July 15, 2009

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Now that my SoFoBoMo books have been done for a while, I’ve had a chance to step back and do a bit of thinking about how my own SoFoBoMo experience went this year. I expected a repeat of last year’s experience, but fortunately that’s not what I got.

I went into the fuzzy month window clueless about what I wanted to photograph, but mostly unconcerned. Last year I had detailed plans, all of which went out the window when I picked up the camera and began. That’s the way it is for me – if I have plans, I end up throwing them out more or less straight away. So this time, I planned to have no plan, if you get my drift.

And sure enough, I ended up thoroughly wrapped up in the project I started on without even being sure I wanted it to be my SoFoBoMo thing this year. So wrapped up in it, in fact, that it was clear to me more or less from the outset that the project would continue on well past the end of SoFoBoMo. That change of plans put SoFoBoMo in a different light. I was suddenly confronted with the question “How do I crank out a book from a project which is just barely under way?”, which is a very different proposition from “How do I do a project which I can finish and turn into a book in 31 days?”

In the end, I decided to try to use SoFoBoMo as a springboard – a way to get some momentum to carry the project forward. My plan to was to make a lot of photos – as many as I could in the time allowed, and then to do a rough edit, picking out some interesting ideas, and then very quickly and without a lot of existential anxiety, sort of slam them into a book, upload the result, and then quickly move on. I wanted to use the goal of getting a book done to be a goad to get started on the photography, to use the book as a way to pick out some of the interesting ideas I’d come across, and perhaps write some text that did the same thing – just sketch around the ideas for the more long term project.

In the end, the first two photo sessions netted me enough photos that I could, with some ease, go over the 35 photo minimum. I continued on, though, making a lot more photos. In the end, I had so many photos that I just cut the book in half, called the first part “Part I”, the second part “Part II”, and did two books. I could have done one higher quality book, but remember that I wasn’t aiming for quality – I was aiming for momentum and insight. To make matters more confused, at that point I was only vaguely articulating this momentum not quality concept to myself. I’m convinced that this was the right move for me. To be sure, I’ve seen some really high quality books in the pool of completed books this year – but part of the charm of SoFoBoMo is that each of us comes to the process with different goals, and each of us thus gets to optimize the experience to suit who we are and our needs of the moment. That this makes it hard to compare SoFoBoMo books is, I think, a very positive thing – everyone understands that if you compare two books, you are comparing an apple with a duck.

In any case, this decision of mine has netted me some interesting feedback, all of it useful and all of it deeply appreciated. One sort of feedback has been observing that there are some lovely images in there, and the ‘quality’ of the images is high, which might mean a lot of different things.

Another sort of feedback, equally useful, has been that the books don’t seem to have a concrete narrative, don’t seem to be very cohesive, and are not very tightly edited, with some ideas unexplored and others sort of hammered to death. And all that’s true, too. The image sets are NOT particularly cohesive, because while I was whacking out the books, trying not to let the effort needed stall the project, I had not yet (and still have not yet) entirely sorted out what the entire project is about. It’s just begun, and I expect that over the next few months I will have a few of those moments where I’ll sit up sharply in my chair before the monitor, and think “Oh! OHHH! I think I have figured out something important!” And when that happens, the direction of the whole enterprise will shift in some subtle (and perhaps not so subtle) ways. Worse, I fully expect that this will happen repeatedly, to the point where I’ll look at those first photos and think “Oh, damn. What could I have been thinking when I made these?” Actually, that’s already happened.

That leaves me with a list of issues to explore as I take the project forward: narrative, repetition, breadth of coverage versus narrow more focused view.

Onward.

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