A friend recently asked if my Town Dogs project was finished. Playing for time, I said I wasn’t sure.
According to conventional wisdom, a photo project is like a good story – it has a beginning, a middle and an end. For the photographer this can provide structure and focus. For viewers the sense of narrative can make a project easier to follow. But don’t take this kind of guidance too seriously. If you do, you risk strangling the life out of a project.
Let’s talk about beginnings. In my very first blog post, Minding the shop, I introduced Bruno the Mastiff. From the start I knew that I wanted to take photos of him. He was an imposing dog and Etty & Tyler’s was a great setting. But any thoughts of a photo project were premature at that stage. Relying on gut feeling, I just knew that I wanted to go back and take pictures.
It was only some months later that I realized I had the makings of a project. Going through my contact sheets, there were about ten decent images and I was building up friendships with dogs and their owners. Most importantly, I liked dogs. Unless you enjoy what you’re doing, how can you expect to persevere when things get hard?
Having found a direction, the middle part of a project is generally the most straightforward. By now it should have its own momentum. I recommend that you go with the flow and welcome the unexpected. Leave editing until later.
Of course there will come a time when you need to pause and take stock. When you think you’re there, try printing your photos – postcard sized is big enough. Then lay them out on the floor and play – it’s amazingly effective, compared with trying to edit on screen.
Early on I decided that I wanted to make a book out of my project. Playing with my ‘postcards’ helped in several ways. For example, I noticed gaps – there were no pictures of dogs travelling by train or bus. And it made sequencing easier – laying out the cards, then playing with the order.
As I hinted at the beginning of this post, for me one of the biggest challenges has been deciding when Town Dogs is ‘finished’. There have been a few wobbles – times when my energy and enthusiasm dropped. Please don’t give in to them. Take a break, catch your breath and have another go. Often a break is just what you need to get the creative juices flowing again.
Ironically, moving to Zambia made the final decision easy. Town Dogs is essentially a London based project, so I realized that it was time to move on. There’s still no book, but I’m working on that.
I hope that I’ve encouraged you to work on your own photo project and look forward to hearing how you get on.