This is the first of a few articles on my photographic process. They are a written reflection on my process at this time, and not rules or recipes for making work.
starting a new project
I've been shooting for series much more frequently in the past few years. Before that I used to shoot spontaneously and collect individual photographs of things that interested me. I still do that occasionally and may return to it in the future, but at the moment I prefer working on sets.
I've started projects in many different ways, the most common being: by going on a trip, by going back in my negatives or by actively developing an idea and going forward.
The easiest way to make a series usually comes after a trip. The scope of the work is contained by the start and end of the trip and its topic is usually about the place I'm visiting. I develop the films right away when I return, but I don't edit them. I check them out of curiosity but no work begins at this point.
Another way to compose a series is by going back and poring over old negatives, whether by chance or deliberately. The eye, the methods, subject affinity are always evolving and I can sometimes find great things in old negatives that I had overlooked. The perspective time affords also helps. This has never led to a series being actively developed, though I don't exclude this. As with a trip, usually the work is self-contained though the subject may not be very obvious or easy to develop.
The most interesting and challenging method is by actively developing an idea and going forward with it. Sometimes I'll find myself shooting along a certain theme. That can be totally by chance, since I try to shoot in a spontaneous way. It can also be a decision to go after an idea, though it's always very vague at the inception ("snow" or "night colour"). The theme stays in the back of my mind and I'll continue shooting for a few weeks without developing anything. I'll shoot to see how much material there is to work with, it's a kind of test to gauge how interesting the idea is. The goal is to accumulate material to begin any kind of composition.
A lot of ideas get quickly discarded before they make it very far in the editing process but it's important to experiment and try out even the ones that seem silly or uninteresting at first. The fastest way to get myself into a rut is by qualifying ideas and assessing shots before I've made or seen them. Of course I still manage to find myself stuck taking the same pictures or not shooting anything, see here for hurdles and challenges.
I always carry my camera with me whenever I go. Work commute, supermarket, walking the dog... nowhere is too trivial. A lot of the time I don't shoot anything. I almost never go somewhere specific with an idea in mind to shoot. I find it difficult to work in this way, I'd rather shoot in a more improvisational manner wherever I happen to be. I don't prepare shots or study locations, but I do often come back to places and shoot them over and over again. Some corners I've seen many times in every season, I've accumulated hundreds of shots with very small variations. Shooting requires me to be in the present with few distractions, in fact my preferred way to work is alone. I need to pay attention to the surroundings, the light, people coming and going. I walk around rather aimlessly, back and forth between streets and neighbourhoods, wondering what the light will be like in an hour, stepping in a shop to see what the frame looks like from inside, waiting for an hour on the same corner, stopping randomly to burn half a roll on a detail. I'll come back on other days and make more shots of the same thing in a different light or at a different time of the day.
I try not to set out in a editing mode while shooting, that is judging the quality of the image before having made it, or trying to fit it into a series or wondering why I'm shooting this particularly. I shoot instinctively and generously leaving the decisions for later. If I see something however that does feel like it could fit a series I'm working on then I'll try to work many angles and get as many interesting shots as I can.
It's a balance of being totally spontaneous and open and keeping an eye out for what could serve my ongoing project of the moment.
The pace of shooting is irregular, sometimes I'll shoot a lot in a small period then go through weeks of little to no shooting with all the emotional up and down that accompany it. I usually feel better when I'm shooting and can worsen the longer I'm not shooting.