The Photographic Series:
Long Term Works & the "Flash Project"
Artists often create their art, whether consciously or not, within the structural framework of a series, or a specific body of work. Although creating within the structure of a series is common for many types of media, this way of exploring the creative muse seems a natural way of working for photographers due to the relative ease with which photographs can be generated, as well as the fact that the camera is ideally suited for documenting a specific subject.
For some photographers, their work on a series can last anywhere from months to years, or even a lifetime. Having a series that is personally significant to you can be an important component in your growth as a photographer. It provides a place to return to, a creative home base, where you know the terrain and have already spent considerable time making photographs, as well as playing with the concepts and ideas that form the building blocks of the series.
Currently there are three series of images that are featured on my web site. Each of these series has been in progress for the past several years and one, a collection of pinhole photographs called Artifacts of an Uncertain Origin, is still a slow-moving work in progress with more images to come. That project began in the late summer of 2006. My work on it is intermittent and sometimes a several months may pass without any new images being made. The pace is contemplative and leisurely and the meditative nature of the series is an important part of my creative life even during those times when I am not actually out with my camera making photographs for it; I am still "working" on the series even if I am not acctually making new photographs for it.
In contrast with the long term photographic series is what I have come to call the “Flash Project”. The name refers to the fast and sudden nature of the project, often occurring unexpectedly and over a relatively short span of time. Flash projects can provide a refreshing change of pace from series that unfold over a longer period of time. They can also serve as transitional works that occupy the time between other projects and may even become a springboard to a major body of work.
A few years ago I found myself in the midst of an unplanned flash project on Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, Hawaii. The catalyst was a wooden pinhole camera and three rolls of old Kodacolor II film that had expired in 1983, making it a quarter of a century past its sell-by date. I did not set out to consciously create a series; I merely wanted to play with the expired film and, even though it had traveled with me to several interesting places during the previous year, Waikiki Beach provided the necessary creative spark (not to mention the purely technical requirement of plenty of bright sunlight for exposures that were a minimum of 30 seconds).
The fact that I only had three rolls of this “ancient” film stock (12 frames per roll) created a natural material limit to the series (not all of the frames were shot in Waikiki and I have edited the series down to about 18 shots). In addition to the limitations of the film, the actual area of Waikiki Beach also provided a physical boundary for the project that made it easy to work with in the three days that were available to me. It wasn’t until I had the film processed (a nearby 1-hour photo lab provided relatively speedy feedback on the success of my long exposures) and had begun scanning the negs that I saw the possibility of a series emerge. And while this may not be a “major” photographic series for me, the fact that the actual photography was completed in the space of three days was very refreshing! And the finished images work well together to create a compact series of photographs that all share the common attributes of sense of place and a similar visual and technical aesthetic.
Flash projects can provide a great opportunity to explore a different visual direction in your work. The short nature of a flash project gives you free rein to branch out creatively without a lengthy investment of time. Although some flash projects, like my Waikiki series, happen spontaneously, others can be planned with the goal that you will only spend a short amount of time on it and the scope of the subject matter will be limited to what can be easily covered in that time span. A flash project is also a great way to explore subject matter or styles that you are interested in working on. And even if a flash project never ends up in your portfolio book, or on your web site, it can still provide valuable grist for your creative mill, and in that way can add to the nuance and visual texture of future photographs. Sometimes the experience of making the images is more rewarding and creatively significant, than the images themselves.
If you're looking for some creative stimulus, try to make time for a flash project or two. Get out the macro lens you never use and photograph the significance of small, insignificant things, make a series of portraits of your neighbors or co-workers (or complete strangers), explore the symmetrical possibilities of reflected images (a photograph that is copied and flipped to create a mirror image of itself), try your hand at night photography, or create photographic sketches of the minimalist landscape. Do something different, just for the sake of doing it. It can’t help but have a positive effect on the creative currents in your life.
Throw yourself into your photography.It’s an important part of your life. It matters.