Pay what you think it's worth.

A year long social pricing study to understand the value people place on photography.

Bodies of Work. Your Next Step?


There are, or can be, many steps on the journey of craft (and vision!). The moment we stop paying so much attention to how much light is in a scene and begin to notice its quality is one such significant step forward. Another for me was when I changed my thinking about my lenses and started choosing my focal lengths based on the behaviour of the optics—what they made the scene look and feel like—not just how much stuff they allowed me to squeeze into the frame.

These steps forward happened a long time ago for me, but others took longer to learn—the shift from thinking about photographing things to photographing ideas, for example. That was a big one for me. So too was the change from a focus on single images to bodies of work, though that wasn’t so much an epiphany as a long, slow awakening that began as I realized all the photographers I truly admired were shooting longer series of images: bodies of work that allowed them to go deeper on a subject, theme, or idea than just one lucky shot here and there.

There are, or can be, many steps on the journey of craft (and vision!). The moment we stop paying so much attention to how much light is in a scene and begin to notice its quality is one such significant step forward. Another for me was when I changed my thinking about my lenses and started choosing my focal lengths based on the behaviour of the optics—what they made the scene look and feel like—not just how much stuff they allowed me to squeeze into the frame.

These steps forward happened a long time ago for me, but others took longer to learn—the shift from thinking about photographing things to photographing ideas, for example. That was a big one for me. So too was the change from a focus on single images to bodies of work, though that wasn’t so much an epiphany as a long, slow awakening that began as I realized all the photographers I truly admired were shooting longer series of images: bodies of work that allowed them to go deeper on a subject, theme, or idea than just one lucky shot here and there.

It is bodies of work to which I now give almost all my focus as a photographer.

If you were on a workshop with me, perhaps in Venice or India, this is what we would work on. Bodies of work push us harder as photographers. They demand we find a through-line in our work. They force us to make choices about what we photograph and how, especially as we work to create those collections of images in a way that allows them to work together.

9 Frames from a short series exploring the light and colours—mostly after dark—of Venice, Italy.

Choose a Theme

On the first day of our hypothetical workshop together, I would give you the simple homework that would fill the coming week. Go wander with your camera alone, and decide what you want to explore photographically. In other words, go find a theme. It might be life in a specific neighbourhood. It might be expressions of faith. Some of my students have chosen themes that include celebration, urban decay, food, craftsmen, and tourism. One did self-portraits in Rome. Another photographed people taking selfies. The idea is to find a hook on which to hang your photographic exploration for a week.

Choose Your Constraints

Now choose some constraints. In other words, which limitations will you work within to give the resulting images some cohesion so when they’re presented together as a series of 12 they clearly belong to each other? Will all 12 images be a certain aspect ratio or frame orientation? Will this be a black and white series or colour? What kind of colour palette? Will it be soft and muted or bright and alive? Will you constrain yourself to one lens, one kind of light or time of day? To make these choices, you’ll be willingly challenging yourself and owning some of your particular preferences and tastes. Not everyone finds this easy. And yet….

9 frames from a body of work made on the Ganges River at Varanasi, India.

By at the end of our week together (and several conversations about your photographs over coffee or wine), you’d have whittled down your many images to 12 and found in them a sequence that makes sense to you. On the final evening, we’d all sit together and show those bodies of work and marvel at what others had seen that we had completely missed—a vision so different from our own of a place we’d otherwise shared. And we’d all see in the work of others the unmistakable voice of that person.

This is one of my highlights as a teacher: to see photographers awaken to their own voice as they’ve made tighter decisions and forced themselves to work within them, to do only what’s most important to them, to be creative in their own way within a set of self-imposed constraints and personal tastes.

Twelve images on a theme, within chosen constraints. Sounds easy, right?

That simple assignment has changed the way I photograph. It has encouraged greater creativity, decision-making, depth, and discipline. It has forced me to see my edits differently. To think of sequences. To choose through-lines for my work and seek out the images that might best connect to those themes. It has made me a more thoughtful photographer over the years, one who asks “what am I trying to accomplish here?” while making the kinds of choices that help answer that rather than shooting blindly or only opportunistically. To seek and not only to accept what comes (though I do that, too). And as I’ve pursued this, my projects have gone from 12 images to 24, to 48, and more. One year’s work has added to another, and then again to another, and the work has found new rhythms and the occasional unexpected but beautiful detour.

A single image can only do so much—can only say so much. It gives fewer opportunities for nuance, to tell a bigger story. I think one compelling single image can too easily convince us we are further along in our craft than we are. One image is a lucky shot (and yes, ultimately they’re all lucky, and so are we to do what we do), but a body of work is a more challenging thing to get to. And for me, it is much more rewarding.

9 frames from my on-going black and white underwater work.
A sample of the images from the very beginning of a series from Churchill, Manitoba.

I wonder if this is the next step for you? Have you been working in this way and noticed the benefits? I’d love to hear from you in the comments? If not, what would it take to make this your next move forward? If you’re like many of my first-time students, the reaction is, “I don’t think I can do this!” But you can. I’ve never had a student finish the week without doing so and feeling the exhilaration of seeing their work reflect back to them both a vision and voice they weren’t even aware were theirs.

It’ll be a while before I’m doing workshops again (though read below if you’d like to learn from me in person), but you don’t need me to make this a new way of working your craft and going deeper: twelve images on a theme, created within some intentionally-chosen constraints. Challenge is what drives growth in any craft, skill, or medium. And like the bodies of work I’m encouraging you to make, I hope you’ll find in this challenge something so much more than just the sum of its parts.

For the Love of the Photograph,
David

Coastal Vision 2022.
Spend time with me on Prince Edward Island this July.

I won’t be doing international travel workshops until at least 2023, though I don’t have anything planned at this point. But if you’re looking for a chance to learn from me (and I’ll be teaching about bodies of work, among other ideas), I will be on Prince Edward Island for two back-to-back opportunities in July of this year.

This 3-day conference (I’m not sure what else to call it) is like a photographic love-in at a beautiful heritage barn in one of Canada’s prettiest provinces. My partner in crime, Dave Brosha, and I aim to inspire, instruct, and light new sparks in your photographic and creative life. The event is called Coastal Vision, and there are still a few spaces left in this small, intimate gathering. If you’ve been looking for a chance to connect with me, share some meals, stories, and laughter, and give your vision a good polish (or perhaps a jumpstart), this is going to be a wonderful time together. I can’t wait to see you there!

You can get more details on the July 25–27, 2022 Coastal Vision event here:
https://www.tickettailor.com/events/davebroshaphotographyltd/242831

You can get more details on the July 29–31, 2022 Coastal Vision event here:
https://www.tickettailor.com/events/davebroshaphotographyltd/262501



Source link

Rafael Jones

Back to top