Street photography projects
Those who have been on my workshops will know how much importance I attach to projects in street photography. A project can help keep you motivated, focused and creatively engaged; it can bring together an otherwise random collection of images into a meaningful body of work. We should ALL have at least one project on the go at any one time. And, now that the new year is upon us, we should be planning some projects so that in 12 months’ time we can look back with a warm glow of satisfaction at a number of completed projects.
What is a project and why is it important?
A project is a collection of images – a distinct body of work – which is generated around a specific theme. It allows you to build a strong narrative, using images to tell a story. There are three good reasons why you should develop the ‘project mindset’ . . .
- Projects give you focus and direction. On days when you can find little inspiration, or when there is ‘nothing happening’, they will give you the impetus to go out and shoot in a fairly organised manner.
- They can provide you with a clear ‘end game’ – whether in the form of a photo book, set of prints, exhibition, web gallery or blog – which will spur you on to produce a tangible, worthy body of work.
- They allow you to tell a story. Whilst it is perfectly possible to tell a story using a single image, think about how much more powerful that story can be if told using a cohesive set of images, edited and sequenced in a logical order.
Get into the project mindset
Many street photographers struggle to find sufficiently interesting material to photograph and so resort to ‘randomness’. We’ve all seen the many thousands of street photographs on the internet which are of random people, in random places, doing random things. There is no sense of narrative, no theme and no connection between the images.
But that isn’t always a bad thing. When we venture out onto the streets we hope to come across what Henri Cartier-Bresson defined as the ‘decisive moment’ – that split second when you get a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for an unrepeatable shot. As street photographers, we need to react quickly to what is going on around us, not to wait for the elusive decisive moments which, let’s face it, can be few and far between.
That aside, it is worth noting that all successful street photographers tend to have a project mentality. We may have one, five or even ten projects on the go at any one time – it really doesn’t matter. The important thing is to focus your mind and your creative output into creating bodies of work which have a sense of direction and purpose. Projects are the street photographer’s friend.
Finding the right idea
As coming up with ideas for street photography projects may not come easily to many of us, a good starting point is to look what others have done in the past. I’m not suggesting that you copy other photographers’ ideas but there’s nothing wrong in looking to them for inspiration.
For example, a recent photo book has recently been published entitled ‘Lost in the City’ by Nicholas Slack – a study of office workers on the streets of the City of London. Whilst you probably wouldn’t want to undertake an identical project, you would almost certainly get some ideas and inspiration for your own project by flicking through a book such as this. Look at the work of street photographers you admire and see how they have approached projects – in terms of the subject matter, the photographic techniques used and the sequencing and editing of the work.
Another approach to projects is to explore themes in which you have an interest outside the world of photography. If, for example, you support a charity, you could find a rich seam of opportunity in the work they do. Perhaps you have an interest in Sunday league football: a ‘behind the scenes’ look at the club could make an interesting photo story.
The end result
One of the most satisfying outcomes of a street photography project is to allow others to see your work. There is a real sense of achievement to see photographs that you have taken in a gallery, on a website or in the pages of a book. Here are a few ways in which you can show off your project:
- Exhibitions: smaller galleries are often keen to exhibit the work of new photographers, particularly those whose work is contemporary or avant garde. Even try your local coffee shop or restaurant; the owners may be very pleased to have something interesting to display on their walls – and you might even get some print sales out of it.
- A web presence: with web space now being so easy and cheap to set up, it is very feasible to set up a site to show or promote a specific project. Alternatively, establish the project as a stand-alone gallery on your existing website.
- Self-publishing: online and on-demand printing has never been more accessible and, for the price of a few drinks, you can see the fruits of your labours in a printed book.
- Traditional publishing: whilst it is difficult and highly competitive to get a mainstream publisher interested in your work, it’s by no means impossible. Look at the smaller publishers and pitch your project to those who have an interest in, or success with, similar work.
- Magazines and newspapers: there are many thousands of printed and online publications which regularly publish the projects of photographers. Before pitching an idea to them, think carefully about their style, their editorial slant and their readership, ensuring that your material is suitable.
- Decorate your home: what better way to show off your photography than to dedicate part of your home to it? Paint a wall or two white, invest in some quality frames and you’ll soon be living in your own art gallery!