There’s a special moment after the time you first pick up a camera and learn the basics. That moment you get “serious”, where you feel the urge, that drive to do “more” with your photography. That “more” can mean a lot of different things:
- Putting on a show of your photos
- Having your photos hang in an art gallery
- Starting you own business in whatever genre of photography you feel drawn towards
- Publishing a book
- Starting a photo collective
Whatever that goal is, just know one thing, it is okay to fail. What matters is that we keep going, keep trying new ideas, new concepts. Also it helps to be honest with yourself about what hasn’t worked.
For example: I have pretty much come to the conclusion that I am NOT a 365 photographer. I’ve always admired photographers who have that dedication in them to shoot a photo each day, and I’ve wanted that type of dedication in my own photography. I’ve tried on three separate occasions to do the photo a day exercise, and I just don’t have it in me, I get bored and quit. Hell, I’ve even tried a 52 rolls project, where you shoot at least one roll per week. I honestly thought that I could make it at least a year, I mean it’s not that difficult to shoot a roll of film a week right?? I made it to week 24 before I quit.
Quitting has also made me abandoned what I thought were going to be long term projects. There was a time a few years ago when I thought that I was going to make a statement about the country in the vein of The Americans using a Holga. I put in roughly two and a half years of work, and even took this series to a portfolio review before I decided to hang it up. After staring at the work on my website for a year or so, I decided to make a zine with the photos, just for me.
I remember when I first got into shooting Fuji Instax, and I had aspirations that I was going to be the next Jamie Livingston. You might not recognize his name, but I’m sure you’ve heard his story; he shot a Polaroid photograph every day from 1979 until the day he died in 1997.
I barely made it 6 months, before my Instax 210 (thanks Fuji!) decided that that it was going to bow out of the series, and I just never bothered to replace it. The prints sat around for 5 years before I decided to take a handful and make a zine out them (I’m noticing a trend of making zines of my failures…).
Instax failure from Return ToFilm on Vimeo.
I find it comforting making zines with this orphaned bodies of work. It gives it an ending or finished status if you will. It also allows me to move on in some fashion, and not look back at a pile of negatives, contact sheets or work prints and say to myself “Why didn’t I do anything with these?”
Now I’m going to contradict what I just said about looking back; I believe that you should always look back on past work. New eyes see things differently, they see new things with the passage of time. The passage of time also has changed you as a person, as an artist, as a photographer as well.
Maybe you’ll see what you originally passed off as a ‘failure’ was just you needing time to reflect on your original expectations.
How often do you revisit old work? If you do, how often do you see new things that you didn’t before?