If creativity were a faucet, you would be able to turn it on and off at will with a simple turn of the knob. Unfortunately, accessing the creative hemisphere of your brain is not that easy. The best way to get your creative juices flowing is to be active…you need to take your camera out and shoot often. That is easier said than done: Sometimes it’s difficult to figure out what to shoot. Ongoing Photo Projects, on the other hand, are a great way to keep the creative river flowing. I’m going to share with you a few of my ongoing projects, one in detail, and we’ll discuss how such a project might benefit you.
Stumbling Into Bliss
It was only a few years back that I happened upon this whole project philosophy. I was on a photowalk with other photographers and we ended up at a bar for drinks and food later. I was speaking with another photographer who was apparently obsessed with red doors and she was excited about adding three new doors to her portfolio. What really excited her was the fact that one of her newest red doors was not a church (apparently, red doors are popular among churches, but not many other places). At the time, her little side project was interesting and inspirational, but I didn’t really get it. But then after reviewing my workflow later, which included photos from the previous year, I realized that I had subconsciously created my own project: Shopping Carts. My primary job is Landscape Architecture. So I tend to end up in the woods or at abandoned shopping centers, the places where shopping carts flock. I had somehow inadvertently collected dozens of photos of shopping carts outside of their element. And a project was born. I still capture shopping carts to this day.
The Philosophy of Ongoing Projects
I have in my head a mental photo bucket list, photos that I would like to one day capture. Likewise, I have several ongoing projects in my head that I am always looking to expand. My Rouge Shopping Carts project is one. I also have an ongoing project called Hospitality which features rooms that are now in complete ruin; the name is intended to be sarcastic. My bucket list and my ongoing projects go hand-in-hand. On my bucket list is a photo of a shopping cart with a tree (of a reasonable size) growing through it. If I ever happen upon that, I promise you my schedule will be out of sorts for the rest of the day, because I expect to spend a lot of time making sure that photo is perfect.
An ongoing project, such as my shopping carts, has a significant benefit to your creativity: You are always looking. You will always be on the lookout for expanding your project and you will, in turn, teach your eyes and your mind to notice details in general. The great Bryan Peterson, for example, is always on the search for letters in the wild. He has countless collections of alphabets featuring letters he’s found out in the world, be it from a unique sign or spray-painted on a wall. The side effect is that while he’s looking for letters, he’s noticing a great number of photo opportunities. Likewise, while I”m looking for shopping carts or ruins, I’m likely to happen upon another great photograph.
Case Study: Falsely Accused
My favorite project is one that I call Falsely Accused. It features one of my favorite locations, Eastern State Penitentiary (ESP), a stabilized ruin of the world’s first penitentiary in Philadelphia, PA (USA). I like ruins and I like self-portraits. This project combines both. I created a whole story that each photo is intended to fit into. It’s the story of a man who is accused of a crime he didn’t commit. There was no trial and he is held in secrecy, a conspiracy that must be hidden from the public. As such, the prisoner is held in solitary at a facility that has long been abandoned and not within the public eye: ESP, a ruin of a prison that sits vacant (this takes place before it was converted to a museum). Left to rot without the company of another human, what would an innocent prisoner do with his time? That is the question I like to explore with my self-portrait series.
ESP is now a museum. It sat for many years without any upkeep and so it became an unstable ruin. The curators of the museum have taken the unique perspective that they will not refurbish the facility. They will stabilize it and make sure it doesn’t get worse; we don’t want it to fall apart. But it offers a unique opportunity for photographers to practice Urban Exploration without breaking the law. I’m a member and so I’m there many times throughout the year. Every time I’m back, I try to add to my Falsely Accused project. I expect to carry out the project indefinitely. I have dreams of posing in front of my camera when my hair is white and my skin is wrinkled. I may even grow a beard. A photo of our forgotten prisoner with a white beard would be icing on the cake, as far as I’m concerned. But I don’t believe it’s that unrealistic of a goal. I have been working on the project now for three years. I’d love to continue to add to it up until I’m incapable of pressing the shutter anymore. I have aspirations of making it into a book someday…hopefully that dream can become a reality.
I am coming off of a several-month long low spot in my creative flow. There are many justified reasons why this was the case. But I’m happy to say that the one thing that kicked me back into gear was my personal projects. When I stumble upon a shopping cart in the middle of the woods while on a site visit for my job, I can’t help but to be a little inspired. The nail in the coffin for that lull occurred when I was able to expand my Falsely Accused project after a year of dormancy. Lulls happen to everyone, even the best of us. Ongoing projects are a way to prevent that from happening as well as a way to rekindle the fire. Photo Projects are, in my opinion, something that every photographer should consider. You should have multiple projects going on. The more the better as it will keep those creative juices flowing. Maybe start by going through our workflow. There is possibly a subject you already fixate on without even knowing it. If not, make something up. Here’s a few ideas:
- Nature overtaking the man-made
- Broken windows
- Bathroom mirror self-portraits (a nod to Lotus Carroll)
- Micky Mouse ears (Bonus: Check out the Disney Hidden Mickeys)
- Figurines or Dolls on location (Sara Collaton travels with vinyl Mike and Sully figurines of Pixar fame)
More Falsely Accused