Create: Anatomy of a Project

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But how did I get there? One of many questions I’ve received over the past few months. This film is based on a conversation I had with a friend who called me about my Notes on Photography 7 film. I realized there are so many things I take for granted about doing projects. The logistical ladder one must climb to even be in the situation where a story can be completed. How did I make that picture and what did it take to get in that position? And how about another “typical” project. Where did the idea come from? How did I get access? What was the goal? What were the parameters and ultimately why did it not work? I am not recommending people do this work. Some might find it worth the effort but if you do choose to go down this long-form road you will be rewarded with things you can’t imagine.

Comments 17

  1. Hido is awesome. Love what he does and you’re right, it’s so distinctive. The Aperture book ‘Todd Hido on Landscapes, Interiors and the Nude’ is a brilliant read.

    I spent a long time learning to recognize, get in, shoot and be gone before anyone realized I was there. Like you, that’s what makes it fun for me. Knowing when to keep the camera in the bag is a very difficult lesson. It’s almost as hard as learning to say no.

    Your story about the prints reminds me of my time in Samoa. I made a bunch of prints for the kids that I had photographed in the village and sent them back once I returned home. I wish I could have been there to hand them over in person. I would have loved to have seen their faces as I’m sure the reaction would have been a lot like you experienced.

    Also, your dongle sounds like a personal problem.

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      Sean,
      It’s the only dongle that means anything. Todd Hido is perhaps the most copied photographer of the moment. It used to be Ryan McGinley, Terry Richardson before that. Stephen Shore, Eggelston, etc. Their work looks approachable until you try it and they also bring SO much more than the images to the table. But when you audience might not recognize any of these names it doesn’t matter. Once on the north shore I asked a young photog about Avedon, Salgado and Annie and he said “Never heard of them.”

    2. I tried one Eggelston copy cat image once. The one of the tricycle except I used one of the kids’ bikes with training wheels. There is an art in making the mundane beautiful and compelling. I don’t have that skill.

      I don’t miss the North Shore bros all that much. I do miss the energy and the sound. Massive Pipe combined with all those shutter clicks. Quite mesmerizing. Then the late afternoon winter light which made the waves glow an almost unnatural shade of blue.

      Fyi, Gefter’s biography of Avedon is brilliantly done. Completely different that the one Norma Stevens wrote a couple of years ago. It’s much more insightful. The happenstance connections he made growing up are jaw dropping.

    3. Making the mundane beautiful. Man, I haven’t got that skill or creativity or vision. I’ve only looked at a small portion of Eggleston’s work, but it’s beautiful. There’s one image of a kitchen table. In my head I’m picturing a window, a checkered table covering, condiments, etc. My memory might have it all wrong. Anyways, for kicks, when I see a setting even remotely like that one, I’ll usually take a photo. They’ve all been awful, every single one. He’s also got one of a young grocery store worker pushing carts into the store as the sun is sinking low. Incredible.

      I bet those kids loved getting those prints.

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      Scott,
      I was never in love with that work. For me it was Vermeer. A painting still life had such power compared to anything in photography. But, that’s just me. I was more a Salgado, Peress guy.

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      Sean,
      I was always interested in more straightforward folks like Salgado. I miss going to Hawaii but don’t miss anything about the surf stuff except for friends made along the way.

    6. Interested in hearing more about that. I always wanted to be a surfer. Took lessons twice – lessons – we’re talking 1/2 day stuff. Loved it. But I’ve never been beach guy, so I romanticize it a bit. Have always viewed surfing as zen, philosophy, chill, etc. I laughed at Point Break, but I still also love it.

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  2. Absolutely loved this, Daniel, although after this; you won’t be able to say “I’m not a photographer anymore”. It’s in the blood.

    In-depth long-form photojournalism is totally the way to go for me .

    And prints! Giving prints to people photographed is so rewarding and the reaction to doing so is positive.

    1. Agree with everything Mike said. One thing that’s fun to have on hand is one of those Instax printers. People love getting those little prints.

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  3. This was really great Dan! Those types of experiences are so rich and not many people today seek them out. Thanks for sharing this.

    Liked the Dumb and Dumber reference too!

  4. This was excellent. Easy to get through – because this is exactly the kind of work I’m interested in. I’d like to get proficient with portraits, but that’s a side interest for me. The sort of work you describe in the video is the thing that keeps me up at night thinking. And I’ve hardly made any progress on it. Hardly any. It’s hard – the time and access. I think I’ve only been close a couple of times. I was in the UK for a family trip, and since it was around the time of what I thought could be the final BREXIT decision, I tried to tell that story.

    99% of my stuff was uninspired. But there was one day that will always bring back memories. I went to a small town near Sligo that straddles the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. I wanted to get a sense of what BREXIT would mean for that town. When the light faded, I ducked into a pub. Mannix – like the detective – was tending bar. Seamus was catching up with friends. I stayed long enough that eventually it was just Mannix, Seamus, and me. Seamus was very wary of me at first, trying to figure out my angle. They eventually opened up a little, and we got to talking about whether Ireland and Northern Ireland would see a return of political division and secured borders. They both said it wouldn’t, and that no one wanted to go back. I hope they’re right. There was only one photo taken, and it wasn’t by me. Seamus took a photo of Mannix and me on my Instax camera. I knew there was no way Seamus was getting in a photo.

    Sorry for the rambling reply. Great video.

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      Scott,
      This stuff isn’t easy and there really aren’t any shortcuts. I think this is why very few art school folks venture down this path. Easier and quicker to do staged things.

  5. Scott,

    I grew up in the water. Scuba, free diving, surfing, open ocean paddling (prone and stand up). When I got into photography, it was just natural for me to put a camera in a housing and jump in. Shooting surfing from the water is still one of my favorite things to do. So many variables. So many things changing at once. All to capture a single instant.

    I was comfortable swimming with a camera in surf up to about 12′. Beyond that it just wasn’t fun anymore. I’ve had a few moments where I went past my limit. Big water makes you very very insignificant.

    Point Break makes me laugh too but the final scene where Swayze takes his last wave was all real. No composites. A guy by the name of Darrick Doerner did the actual surfing. He’s one of the original big wave guys that invented tow-in with Laird Hamilton. He’s not just on a different level, it’s a totally different universe. I think they did at least a dozen takes of him falling off waves to get the final scene for the movie.

    Here are a few recommendations.

    Films: Castles in the Sky, Sipping Jetstreams, To’ – Day of Days, Thicker Than Water, A Brokedown Melody, 180 South, Come Hell or High Water and Andy Irons – Kissed by God

    Photographers: Art Brewer, Jeff Divine, Ted Grambeau, Tom Servais, Jack McCoy (film), Warren Bolster, Clark Little, Aaron Chang, John Bilderback, Morgan Maassen (film and photo)

    Some people call it zen but for me it was always in extreme flow state. The thing described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book Flow. Laser focus in the moment. Everything else drops away. You and nature. There were spots (Hawaii, Fiji, Samoa), where I’d be out with a camera swimming into a wall of water and realize, this swell, this wave towering over me, has traveled thousands of miles across open ocean, to be here, right now. The power behind that always made me stop and take a breath.

    Salt water heals. It cleanses. It calms. It’s one of the few activities where I don’t think. I just act. There’s freedom in that.

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