2011 was dedicated to breaking up with some big parts of my creative life that were blocking me – especially my photography archive. As I wrote 7 months ago, I was in a complete creative block and had developed an unhealthy relationship with photography.
I am happy to report this mental block is now gone, and I’m developing a more meaningful and healthy relationship with the photographer in me.
I now know I can take good photos, so if a project needs it I can do it – but I just don’t need to obsess with it so much, and I don’t need to feel guilty about ‘not doing anything with my photos’ or ‘not being good enough’. If the need comes, I’ll do it, and I can put professional practices in place. But when I don’t need it, it will just be a nice hobby of mine. Gone are the days where I’d take a camera with me ‘just in case’ and either ruin a walk with a friend, or harm my shoulders from the extra weight. I now know there are photowalks, there are photo projects and there are just days out – I shouldn’t mix them because it almost never works.
When scanning over 40 GB of photos, taken in a period of more than 7 years, I realised that over 90 % of these photos would have needed to be deleted in the camera, or later, after transferring – it doesn’t make sense for me anymore to just take hundreds of photos and archive them. Most of them were either variations of the same shot, or things that seemed interesting on the day, but had lost its meaning by the time I looked at them again.
One of the rare occasions where the hundreds made sense, was when I was doing the Juxt video experiment. Still, it is much better to decide you’re taking these particular images for this specific project, and think about it while shooting.
The widely dreaded ‘I’ll fix that in post’ theme can also be applied to the selection of images you leave / delete. Oh, and the haunting thought ‘I might need this later / for a montage / blah blah blah’; In 7 years of photography, I’ve NEVER needed any of that. So I’ve finally let go of that thought.
Another big lesson for me was working with composition or light. Before, I’d take a picture without thinking too much (it’s digital, I have no restrictions, right?) and then deal with it in post. Well as it turns out this rarely brings good results. Not to mention the amount of time it costs to work on each photo. And for what? Just to put it in my Flickr stream.
This taught me to always think twice before releasing the shutter, and if the light or composition can be improved, to do it at source. There’s a wide misconseption you can fix wrong composition with cropping – but composing an image doesn’t just mean putting things in the frame.
One of the most interesting lessons that I gained from this project is that I sometimes just need to take photos, I enjoy and need the process of creating the images in the camera – and then the need is gone, and I don’t need to do anything else with the resulting files. It is sometimes just a compulsion to capture, to be in that energy – and not so much a need to share / show the results. So now I have photowalks which are just a walk with a camera, simply because I like taking pictures. Editing and publishing is a whole different creative need and process.
Funnily enough, Iearned this when I spent a whole afternoon with the perfect lens, perfect light and perfect subjects – but I was using wrong camera settings. So I had this amazing photowalk, and not a single usable image as a result. But then I realised it wasn’t about the files – I may have gone out with an empty camera and got the same feeling – it was about the photowalk and my need to just have that experience. It’s a refreshing and relieving realisation – that there is a separate process of taking photos for sharing, and taking photos just for yourself, to enjoy the moment. So no more guilt!
Oh, and on that note – and especially after having edited 480+ photos – I finally realised why everyone has been advising me NOT to shoot in JPEG. The moment you start manipulating colours, you regret the lack of a better resolution file. (And that was the main thing I was doing – colour correction). JPEG is all about quantity – which has its time and place – but I hope my next photography projects to also be about quality. So I’ll try and work more with uncompressed formats.
The last lesson was about distribution and publicity. If anyone thinks that it’s enough to just publish stuff online and people will just come and see it – I can assure you that’s not the case. After having uploaded more than 400 images to Flickr, carefully tagged and tweeted, I am not in any way more famous, nor have I got any amazing opportunities as result. It wasn’t my aim anyway (I haven’t been actively promoting / networking), but I think it is an important distinction – if you want people to engage with your stuff, you need to put a lot of effort in getting it in front of them, in engaging in conversations, building a community, etc. There is just too much noise around us and if we don’t set clear intentions and put some kind of strategy in place, there simply is no way for people to find out about our stuff.
So where does this leave me?
I am very happy I did this project, and I definitely think the investment of time and energy was worth it – one year might seem too much, but if you’re battling an old problem, you need persistence. I’ve improved my unhealthy relationship with photography, and started to make clearer distinctions about the purpose of what I’m doing. I’ve also released the past that had been haunting me, and successfully got rid of my creative block. I have started to take less, and better pictures in the last year, and I think I have a better creative process. I’ve cleared out some of the doubts (am I a photographer and what makes me a photographer?), and learned a lot about myself and my artistic / creative needs.
This has also been one of the longest project I have comitted to (definitely the longest personal project), so it was a learning curve, and a big lesson about motivation and organisation. I think the main reasons I didn’t fail at it were the clear intention, the clear boundaries I had set, the freedom I had given myself, and the system I put in place. I planned with failure in mind (it’s realistic to expect to not be able to do it every day, so don’t set unrealistic expectations!), and I was also happy to change the plan a bit when I needed to (I paused the project in August when I took a much-needed break).
I am now also more conscious about taking photos, and managing my creative energy. Before, I’d go out with a camera just because I have it and because I can take good photos (technically, at least), but the intentions were rarely clear. Now, I’ve had a few photo sessions in the recent months, and I’ve started thinking much more carefully, and not simply documenting something, but trying to put some meaning to the images, or to tell a story. There are too many pretty pictures saying nothing – I am trying to take less, but to tell something with them.
I am considering the idea to release the Daily uploads images (except for the portraits as I don’t have model releases for some of them) under a CreativeCommons license. They have served their purpose for me, I don’t think I’ll be using most of them for anything more than reference / porftolio, but maybe they can serve someone else.
I think now is the right time to thank the people who showed their interest and support while I was working on this project. Especially Ziggy, Mac, Basak, Jeni, James and Dean. Thank you for your support and your comments; this project wouldn’t have been the same without you!