Smiling Phases

April 22, 2012  •  Leave a Comment


As you may well know, photographers go through "phases" and often have pet projects during those phases.  Something, probably mundane, catches your eye and it becomes your mission to explore all of its aspects.  Over the years, I've had more than my share.  Some can be interesting; others, not so much.  Some of my friends and family will fondly remember my "Dead Tree" phase - any old scraggly twig popping up out of the ground could qualify if I was in the right mood.  I would go wandering off from the group and someone would say "Where's Duane?" - "dead tree" was the usual response.  As if I had been abducted by aliens and dead, scraggly trees were the bait. Really.  It was so bad that, to this day, if someone comes across a dead tree they still yell out "Quick! Get Duane!".

P6076555 In my younger days (we're talking pre-20's here), I had the "Street Light" phase; how neon lights (or any lights) played off of moving cars or other objects at night.  And, more recently, my "Doors of the Kingdom" taken in London and "Car Parts" in my cousin's own auto garage and car lot.  Now some of these don't technically qualify as phases since they were of relatively short duration (who can really afford to live in London that long); however, they certainly qualify as "projects".

I was discussing photo projects at my office with a friend of mine that had a particularly good idea: "Bathrooms of Las Vegas".  Interesting, but the logistics of hauling camera gear into public restrooms seemed a little dicey.  I think what she really meant was the more opulent bathrooms in some of the luxury suites at the better hotels.  Still, a logistics problem - convincing hotel managers to let me tour the bathrooms of their best suites could be problematic.  On the other hand, if I were quite well known, I'm sure there would be no problem!  

And that's the "rub"; taking on a project usually means exploring the subject "in depth". For a lot of subjects, that can be difficult due to time, money and/or access constraints.  At one point, I thought I would do a series on Arizona golf courses - shots of club houses, signature holes, amenities, landscaping, etc. but the golf course managers were less cooperative than I thought.  For example, Rancho Mañana in Cave Creek, had no problem and happily sent me on my way to explore - even providing a cart for free.  But, when I approached Kierland, in Scottsdale they refused to let me on the course without an escort caddie and then only knowing in advance exactly where I wanted to photograph.  Their excuse wasn't unreasonable: they didn't want some photographer getting in the way and interfering with a guest's game.  However, the end result is that it thwarts any necessary exploration to develop a feel for the course and come up with ideas for the best images.  The work-around, of course, is to do some planning and find out when the course will not have players on the fairways.  That could mean shooting under more difficult light conditions - but that's another issue.

In this day and age, photo projects can also be a little dangerous or controversial as well.  Consider photographing the homeless in parks, alleys or the doorways of downtown office buildings at night. You're likely to get your camera handed back to you in pieces, if at all.  Once, when I was photographing exterior doors in London, I was working my way through the financial district and down toward the Thames on a beautiful Sunday morning when an off-duty police officer ran up and put his hand in front of my camera telling me that it was "not allowed" to take pictures in the area.  I played dumb (I've been told that I'm good at it) but I could clearly see this was the result of the 9/11 attacks in New York and Londoners were not taking any chances that someone was "casing" their buildings for entry points or some other weakness.  It is sad though - where do you draw the line, and how do you draw the line, between tourist, street photographer and terrorist?

Lest you think that most projects are planned, I have to tell you - they are not.  Most (mine anyway) happen by accident.  I will be photographing something, for example: a bright blue door on a masonry office building, and think "I wonder what the door looks like on this other building?" or "What is different about the next door knocker or door handle?".  And you're off...  one thing leads to another and you have hundreds or even more photos that you are culling through, looking for the "stoppers" - the ones that just look really cool or tell a story in themselves.  Maybe you end up with enough for a book or just a page in your web portfolio; but it's a learning experience - and that's what projects are really about.

If you love photography or just want to learn more about it, I encourage you to start your own project.  Pick out something that you love; food, wine, cars, bathroom sinks... it doesn't matter.  Take a lot of pictures.  Learn what worked, what didn't; what looks good and what doesn't.  I guarantee that your will learn more about your camera, more about photography and maybe a little more about yourself too.




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