Working on personal projects is something I still try to do, it’s very important to me. I also believe it plays an important part in developing your own style, staying creatively motivated, exploring new ideas and learning new things…I try hard to produce personal projects fairly regularly, even when I’m busy with actual work. I try to produce and post something usually once or twice a week.
GIF artist Al Boardman talks about personal projects in a way a lot of artists do: It’s important to do the fun stuff and the paid stuff.
The paid stuff keeps the lights on, but the personal stuff keeps you, you.
And it’s usually the personal work that makes people sit up, take notice, and ask if you’re for hire.
Will I ever get over the awkwardness of asking people to take portraits, or for their help in starting a documentary project?
Probably not, which is why I try to do it often.
It’s kind of weird, to go up to someone, or send someone a note, and ask to make their portrait. How well do they know you? How well do they know your work? Do they know you at all?
I like to think it’s flattering to ask someone to take their portrait. It kind of says that I think the person is interesting enough to inquire. It also says that I want to spend a bit of time with the person – to get to know them better.
But I’m also a guy, and sometimes it feels like the bad guy stereotypes come through when I ask someone to join me in making photos.
For documentaries, it’s really weird, because here’s someone who does a cool thing but doesn’t know who I am, or what I’ve done. That was the case with my Albion Anagama documentary. I learned after the project was done that Ken and Anne had no idea what to expect. Thankfully, they were pleasantly surprised with the outcome.
But what if they weren’t?
That’s the risk of making something: you don’t know what the participant will think. You only hope that they’ll be pleased enough to continue a relationship and work with you again.
Getting over the hump of asking in the first place? I have no idea how to solve it. I’m going to keep trying, though, no matter how much discomfort it causes me.
It’s enough to make you think about building that bunker out in the backyard and waiting the whole thing out.
Artists, musicians, religious leaders, and poets will help us try to make sense of it all, over time. In the meantime, there are photographers on the front lines of these terrible events, witnessing first-hand the terrible things that humans do to each other.
As they’re doing that, try to get out and capture something beautiful, while there’s still time. While it’s still there.
If you’re a photographer, do you only check out other photographers’ work? Is there value in digging into architecture, say, or sculpture?
I follow lots of photographers whose work I enjoy. Usually, their work is so different from mine. Lately, I’m trying to follow other artists, too, just to get a broad view of the creative world. Photography is great, but so is music, dance, painting, film.
Artists have a lot to learn from each other.
Don’t be afraid to stretch beyond your own artistic corner of the world.
“Painting has nothing to do with thinking, because in painting thinking is painting. Thinking is language – record-keeping – and has to take place before and after. Einstein did not think when he was calculating: he calculated – producing the next equation in reaction to the one that went before – just as in painting one form is a response to another, and so on.”
– Gerhard Richter
So it goes with making anything, from photographs to ceramics.
If you’re well-connected and well-known, this may not be such an issue for you. Your art may already have an audience. But if you’re a first-timer like me, this audience stuff matters. I didn’t want to make something and have it flop.
In other words, who do I hope sees this?
Now, that doesn’t affect the actual portraits I make. Those are all mine, with no thought on what’s “marketable.” Style, subject, composition – that’s all me.
But when I bundle all these things together, I do think about who will be interested. When I’m done, who do I send this to first?
Part of me feels like a “sellout” for thinking that way. After all, should it matter who sees what I make? Who cares if it’s “marketable?”
For one: me. And for two: Many of my projects have a community focus. If I’m highlighting local artists, say, or people with fun hobbies, then I want to make sure those people are recognized by their communities, big or small.
I get some benefit out of that, sure. But so do the people I showcase. “Here,” the project says, “look at these folks who are just like you and do something interesting.”
For the portrait project, my audience was both my hometown and the artistic community within Jackson. For my Albion Anagama documentary, the audience was the Albion community and the ceramics community, plus alumni from Albion College.
Yes, the stuff I make matters to me, first and foremost.
“You should bring something into the world that wasn’t in the world before. It doesn’t matter what that is. It doesn’t matter if it’s a table or a film or gardening — everyone should create. You should do something, then sit back and say, “I did that.”