In his book , Understanding Close-Up Photography, Bryan Peterson briefly discusses how he “collects” photos of the letters of the alphabet. In his collection, he now has several full alphabets of letters. Letters of interesting colors, textures or lighting. It’s a challenge to isolate letters in a single photograph, but I would assume that’s part of the fun for Peterson. Well, Mr. Peterson is certainly to be commended for introducing me to one of the most inspiring practices I have uncovered to date: Side projects.
The subjects that interest me primarily are architecture, space and the details of either. At the time I picked up Peterson’s book, I was reaching a stagnant point in my photography. I was running out of ideas on how to shoot unimpressive suburban structures (I don’t get into the city often enough). But Peterson’s little game with letters gave me an idea: Cornerstones. I live just outside possibly one of the most historical cities in the United States. There are hundreds of buildings that have been here for decades. Some are even hundreds of years old. Many of them have corner stones – its as good as any other subject to shoot. So I started collecting photographs of cornerstones. That has evolved into fire marks as well – markings on buildings (typically on or near the chimney) indicating which fire company the homeowner paid his dues to (the fire companies weren’t always public servants – they were businesses).
Most of these photos will never get shared with the public. Many of them are uninteresting except when grouped with all of their collected brethren. But photographing cornerstones and fire marks are challenging. Some are near the ground in uninteresting places, but many are near the top of the chimney, making for difficult shooting angles. I have but one rule: The date must be legible. To accomplish this, I have developed some interesting techniques as a result. Techniques that I may not have discovered if I hadn’t been trying to photograph cornerstones.
If the alphabet and cornerstones are not your thing, there are a number of other things you could photographically collect: Interesting doors, flowers, computer parts, mailboxes. There are thousands of possibilities, and you may find one that works well for you.