About a month ago at a meeting with a small group of photographers, the conversation came to “what is a project” and questions related to it. Some said they started a project with a very clear idea of what they wanted to do, while others started without even thinking it was a project. Although I was involved in projects of both kinds I was not quite sure what exactly made for a project and kept thinking. (You may also want to read a related post, What Is A Commissioned Project.)
After considering the subject from various angles, I arrived at the following related to the topic:
A project is an attempt to see how an idea may work. It is an inquiry to discover the possibilities. Implicit in this is the possible failure of a project because not all ideas yield positive results.
I photographed dried orchid blossoms because I was intrigued by their shapes. Then, I noticed that each flower looked like a person dancing and asked a friend to see if he and his significant other, a retired ballerina, agreed. She introduced me to Misha, the artistic director of Festival Ballet Providence, and after an initial meeting, the ballet Orchis emerged. There was no possible way for me to conceive the ballet as I started photographing the flowers but it remains a high point in my photographic life.
My Hagia Sophia experience, Touching the History was somewhat similar to this. Although I knew I would be photographing from inside the dome of the Great Church, I had no idea what I would see and how I would respond to the vistas before my eyes. It turned out to be a very powerful experience for me and that reflected in the photographs I produced. I remember some people feeling similar powerful emotions at the opening reception as they became teary-eyed from the evocative images.
A very different kind of project emerged when I teamed up with Vilia Putrius of the Festival Ballet Providence to create a collection of photographs that became known as Ballet Off Stage. The idea was to pick a particular ballet and a ballerina that was in the domain of Vilia and photograph the dancer at a location suitable for the ballet content which was my responsibility. This was a highly controlled project with costumes, locations, lighting, extra elements, etc. The result was very satisfying to me although FBP could not capitalize on the idea at a one-evening exhibit/fundraising reception. Artistically satisfying and successful, financially not.
I have some projects I have been working on like the Ordinary Places where I find “ordinary” locations to photograph with a great deal of respect and attention to detail at the location. These are places where we shop, eat, have a cup of coffee, etc., unlike the locations photographers prefer to visit like grand vistas, seashores, national parks, and so on. We’ll see how it goes. I am also fascinated by the random patterns formed on the roads when the cracks on them are repaired with patches of tar. I call them, and the project, Tar Doodles! I scout the locations and revisit them when fewer people and traffic are likely to be.
And, not all projects need to be of long duration. As I waited in the car in the parking lot of Dave’s Supermarket for Jan to complete the weekly shopping, I noticed the raindrops on the windshield creating distortions. I wondered what may emerge if I emphasized the out of focus nature as some people walked by. I set the manual focus on the lens at its closest setting and photographed the people who went by. I did that for a short while and I am sharing the results below. They are called Impressions of Passers By. This phase of that project has ended, I like the results. I know some may think these look like paintings or they are painterly, to me they are photographs with de-emphasized focus and emphasized motion. By the way, as strange as it may sound, this is actually how we see the world most of the time. Only the point we are looking at is in sharp focus and the rest of the view is indeed out of focus.
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