Project Romanticism

I love photography projects. Or, to be honest, what I really love is starting photography projects. Because while I always have a project or two (or three) in the works, I don’t think I’ve ever really finished one. And that usually means not posting the photos at all…

Why the heck do I do this?

After talking with Kristina about finishing photo projects on last month’s podcast on Reflections, I began to think of my own history with them. I think I’ve never been content with one-and-done art. Even when I spent time on other creative outlets in the past – be it writing short stories and poetry, making short films with friends, or filming and interviewing musicians – I’ve always gravitated toward series or projects. The same is true for my toy photography. I don’t just like taking one photo and then moving onto the next. Instead I prefer to take a series of photographs that are all somehow part of a larger puzzle. I tend to stray away from using repeating characters in my work – something I actually really appreciate in other artists like Joe Cowlishaw or IntangibleDandy – but what I do enjoy is grouping my shots together in a more thematic way.

Sometimes this is obvious. For example, I’m working on an entire series of LEGO Stormtroopers, each framed similarly but differing in the figure and background. Each photo is unique, but it’s clear that they’re all part of a set when you see them together.

Tatooine, Hoth, Endor

The thrill of the chase

Shooting this way is fun for me. I love to envision an entire project from start to finish and plan out my shots. Sometimes a project requires specific subjects, and I don’t always own the pieces or figures I need. That leads to hunting them down, which can be a fun process in and of itself (especially if you’ve also got the collecting bug, like me).

There’s a certain level of romanticism that goes into each new project. I love fine-tuning the overall vision, and daydreaming about how I could print the photos or even post them in a series on social media. I can’t even tell you how many coffee table books I’ve dreamed up in my head. Then, reality kicks in. The truth is, the thrill of starting and planning a project is so strong that I often chase it. I start new projects all the time, which usually means that I don’t finish the ones I already have on my plate.

I’m always hopeful that I’ll finish them eventually. I may frequently take on new projects, but I don’t completely abandon those that I already have. Instead I put them on the back burner and revisit them if and when inspiration strikes.

Because I often push pause on projects, I also tend to not post them at all. I’ve written before about certain compulsions and anxieties I have about how and when I post my photos. Having certain shots tied to potential series makes me especially nervous to show them to the world. If I don’t have a full-fledged release plan, or enough of a project to post consistently, I’d rather hold off. Now, I’m sitting on dozens of photos, waiting for the right opportunity to present them. Hopefully it will happen eventually, because I’m really proud of some of the ideas I’ve cooked up!

I’ve taken an entire series of portraits featuring Star Wars Black Series figures, inspired by the paintings of Mike Mitchell. I have yet to post any of them.

How do you feel about photo projects? Do you finish them? Or are you like me, turning them into an ongoing process? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

-James

9 Comments

  1. Kristina Alexanderson

    I have a more philosophical question: what defines when a project is finished? Does the project need to meet the ideal end-goal to be finished? I often think of project with the following quote from Alice in the Wonderland by Lewis Carroll: “Begin at the beginning,” the King said gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”

    • Gooooood question! Like we discussed on the recent podcast, I think setting boundaries and limitations for yourself can be good for a project. When I have a project that’s open ended, it usually means taking photos that fit within a certain theme or focus on a particular character.

      I also choose projects with a set amount of photos, but those are the ones I often fall behind on. Partly it’s because I don’t give myself a deadline. I then end up not posting any of them, because I don’t want to start releasing anything until I’m either finished or close to finishing.

      In both cases, I’ve not really “completed” one, but I’m always working on them!

      • kalexanderson

        You should do as the king says “Begin at the beginning,” “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” – And when you stop you have come to an end, and that is good and a goal 😉 I think you think to much on the definition, or the original idea, project evolves and changes with the person doing the project. Be more generous towards yourself – you are a success <3

  2. brett_wilson

    Like you, I’m drawn to new challenges of a photo project. Sometimes I see them through, more often than not I don’t.
    But with each of them I learn something. Even if that something is learning that I rarely finish a photo project! But it’s the learning that draws me to them.
    And when a ‘real’ photography project comes along, all that I’ve learned helps me see those ones through to the end! As Kristina points out, whatever then end is?!

    • Yes! I always learn something with each new project. And often it’s a new lesson that sparks the project to begin with. A new toy purchased, a new technique learned, etc. can all lead to a project, because I’m then inspired by that new thing.

      Those “real” projects are the ones I do tend to finish. Probably because I have a deadline and will disappoint someone (or lose the opportunity all together and potentially burn a bridge) if I don’t! That can be good motivation though 😉

  3. Janan

    I suffer from that syndrome too and I’m trying to make a more conscious effort in jotting and sketching ideas down in a notebook. Sometimes, an idea expands and forms a theme which gets me really excited to plan and shoot. Personally, I’ve to also consciously push aside the “social media pressure” and not let that influence my ideas.

    • It’s good to hear that others go through this too! I also want to jot more ideas down. Sunny inspired me with his notebook.

      I’m learning more and more to not let social media influence my photography. At the end of the day, I’m taking photos for myself, and if no one sees them, that’s okay!

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