Birth Of A Photo Project

A long-time fan of plastic cameras, Argentinean writer and photographer Lorraine Healy is the author of “Tricks With A Plastic Wonder,” a manual for achieving better results with a Holga camera. Here, Healy ponders the process of transforming a group of photos into a project.

March For Our Lives, Seattle, March 2018. Sometimes, color adds to an image for this project, sometimes the sheer impact of black and white is enough. Vivitar UW&S with Fuji 200 film, Contax G2, 45mm f2 lens, Kodak Tri-X 400.

A little over a year ago, I found myself going to two marches in quick succession: one of about a thousand people in the village next to where I live, another of over a hundred thousand in Buenos Aires, where I used to live. I shot the first one in color, and the second one mostly in black and white 35mm film. After this particular event, the Women’s March last year, I decided it would be interesting to shoot events like these with mostly 35mm black and white film and a couple of very traditional mechanical cameras, like the Olympus K1000 (with a 28mm lens) and the OM-2 (with a 50mm lens), and possibly a reliable point-and-shoot like the Olympus Stylus/Mju. Fast forward to January this year.

For the Women’s March 2.0, as it was called in Seattle, I went prepared with different black and white films I wanted to try—all ISO 400, this is the Pacific Northwest in January—and two cameras ready, the OM-2 and the Stylus. I decided to leave one of the SLRs at home since I didn’t want to weigh myself down too much during a long walk at a slow pace during a very long day.

Shot with what is probably my favorite film for these marches: Japan Camera Hunter 400 film, with the Contax G2 and 45mm lens.

It was an unforeseen, painful event like a mass shooting at a Florida high school that prompted a nation-wide series of marches a few weeks later. I went to my local march in Langley, and shot a few rolls of black and white film with my Contax G2 fitted with its 45mm lens (f2) and finished some color rolls in cameras that I happened to have in the car. After I got the film back, reviewing the scans with photographer friends, we realized I had quite possibly stumbled into a personal project.

In his book On Being A Photographer, Magnum photographer David Hurn details what he thinks are the essential elements of a photo project. He states that the subject matter for a photo project must be:

  • personally fascinating
  • visually compelling
  • be completed in a reasonable amount of time
  • planned ahead of the actual shooting

Hurn suggests looking for situations that he calls "pregnant moments"—potentially interesting situations that might lead to a good picture.

Sometimes color has a job, to widen the scope of black and white, to add a comment about what we are seeing. I loved this young woman’s flash of furious colorful hair and was grateful to have a camera loaded with color film to record it.

YouTuber Matt Day, in his video The Importance of Personal Projects, addresses his own experience with creating a personal project, “A Friend Of Mine”—a photo essay about his take on life in small town Chillicothe, in southwestern Ohio, where he lives. Day recommends looking at what you are already shooting and identifying patterns in your own work. Interestingly, in addition to going with your own personal passions, Day suggests the other way around: a personal photo project as a great way to dive into and explore something that you don’t know much about.

I thought about several personal photo projects I had worked and keep working on (not sure if Hurn would consider my years-long spans for these projects a “reasonable amount of time”), and then about this one that was beginning to coalesce as a project.

Contax G2 and Kodak Tri-X 400. March for Our Lives, Langley, Whidbey Island.

Do I find the idea fascinating at a personal level? Photographing people engaged in political manifestation and exercising free speech, at a place that I call an intersection between documentary and street photography, is fascinating—especially if people take their dogs along! So I can trust the idea will sustain me however long this political climate lasts. Related to this point: Are these marches continually accessible and can this project be completed in a reasonable amount of time? The answers to these questions are harder to predict; I can probably count on two more January marches on the anniversary of the current U.S. President’s swearing in. Other than that, perhaps current events might dictate new and unexpected marches happening to which I can go. Knowing exactly what kind of look I want for these images, what films I have found the best match for my project (and having plenty of each in my fridge), and which of my cameras I would take make it easier to plan ahead and be ready for any new marches. I think these massive congregations of people, children, pets, holding signs, walking peacefully and letting their voices be heard are full of those "pregnant moments" that Hurn spoke about, as having the potential to make a good photo. Whether that happens successfully, is really up to me.

Contax G2 and JCH 400. March for Our Lives, Langley, Whidbey Island.

What to do with a personal photo project: Print it! Make small prints first, then consider making a photo book. Being able to put on a show of the images is a great way to bring it to fruition, but it can be expensive (the cost of matting and framing a significant number of images is not a minor consideration), and it can be hard to find a suitable venue. But if you can afford it and have a venue that is willing to show your work, go for it. Like Matt Day explains on YouTube video, you don’t even have to share your project with anyone, you can do it for your own enjoyment and your growth as a photographer.

Contax G2 and Kodak Tri-X 400. March for Our Lives, Langley, Whidbey Island.

Once a personal photo project reveals itself, there is a natural narrowing of the focus of your eye. You realize you need a less scattershot approach to shooting just whatever, to shooting in a way that is more tailored to your project. You have to narrow down cameras, lenses, films, and formats. You have to do some thinking about where you will find those images for your project, maybe even do some research. All of this concentration on the intent and direction of your project will lead to better images—not just for this one endeavor but your photography in general.

As for my own Marches project? Right now I’m thinking I’ll probably turn it into a small book by the end of it, which I am envisioning will be after the March of January 2021—whoever happens to be sworn in or whatever the issues of the day are. I see this project as a record of progressive political marches I happened to be near during the years 2016-2020 or 2021.

Superheadz Slim & Wide, Fuji 200, March for Our Lives, Langley, Whidbey Island.

Lorraine Healy (@lorrainehealy) is an Argentinean writer and photographer living in the Pacific Northwest. A long-time fan of plastic cameras and she is the author of “Tricks With A Plastic Wonder,” a manual for achieving better results with a Holga camera, available as an eBook from Amazon.com.

written by Lorraine Healy on 2018-05-17 #news #35mm #argentina #pentax-k1000 #b-w #contax-g2 #olympus-om-2 #us #marches #superheadz-slim-wide #japan-camera-hunter-400 #kodak-b-w-trix #vivitar-us-w #ultrafineonline-400-b-w #women-s-marches

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