personal projects

On Discomfort

On Discomfort

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.

Take On City Hall

Take On City Hall

[Photography] is not a popularity contest; it’s creating something that means something.

Ted Forbes says that no one cares about your photographs. The world doesn’t need more photos, or paintings, or songs – we have plenty, thanks.

What does matter? Projects. Difference-making, not-easy work.

Take pretty shots, sure. Just understand no one cares about them. Nor should they.

But when you tackle projects that say something, or take on a big issue, you’re doing the work that a good journalist can do. Humanity needs stuff that matters.

Take on City Hall, whatever that means to you.

On Projects


On Projects

Give me a month, and a new idea, and I’ll make a project out of it.

Quitting coffee for a month? Done that. Quitting alcohol for a month? Done that (in January). Doing Lent, even though I’m not Catholic? Done that. Drive cross country a few times? Check!

I’ve done the workout thing, the running thing, the daily photo project thing, the portrait project thing, tried the vegetarian thing, a few documentary things.

A lot of my inspiration comes from Benjamin Franklin, who challenged himself with all kinds of fun personal projects. And because the idea of learning new things and applying what I’ve learned is immensely gratifying.

By pushing up against your limits, even if those are just perceived limits, can help you figure out more about yourself.

Can you quit meat/coffee/alcohol? What does that mean for the rest of your life? Does it makes things better, overall, or worse? What did you learn by doing that? Etc.

Here lately, I’ve had a few more personal projects in mind:

  • Make only black and white photos for the summer
  • Take up running again
  • Lose five pounds

The good part is, these are all small things to try. If I fail, I’m not losing anything (except, perhaps, a bit of fitness).

But if I succeed, maybe it will make life a tiny bit better.