I am in two minds about the fashionable thing of presenting photographs as a sequence. Associated with this is the fashion for doing photographic projects.
The tyranny of projects is what happens when planned processes take over from random spontaneity. Projects require linear thinking over intuition, the left brain over right brain. A well run project delivers a pre-specified result. We decide a purpose, work out the key stakeholders, understand what resources we need, set out a plan, break the project into timetabled tasks, review progress and so on. The process increases the chances of getting predictable results. I accept this. But at what cost?
The notion of a project suggests that its end point will be a series of related photographs. However what if this outlook runs counter to what we are trying to do? Minor White was a photographer for whom spontaneity was a crucial to his photography. He was not known as a man who planned his work in servitude to schemas and plans.
Of course situations arise when good project disciplines are essential. For example commercial photographers need to be certain as to outcome. A wedding photographer would be taking commercial risks if he had not staked out the venue beforehand, assessed key vantage points, examined the direction of light for an 11 o’clock wedding and so on.
What’s really at stake here goes back to the reason why we take photographs. At times I find it helpful to wrap the business of taking photographs from within the disciplines of a project. My trip to North Dakota with Tillman Crane last year to photograph abandoned farms was such an instance. I had limited time, a need to visit many locations and so on. So a plan was essential. Hence Tillman’s expertise.
But most of the time I delight in taking photographs as and when situations appear to me in the moment. No plans, no ambitions, no thoughts of a series of photographs, no project-think. Just to be confronted with a particular quality of light on a hill, or a gesture of a person is enough.
I’m sure we can all relate to this – how we felt when we first held a camera and squeezed the shutter, before we even knew about projects.
So for me, the individual unplanned photograph stands alone on its own merits. That is why I am not a great believer in presenting a series of photographs, particularly if they are given a daft name that tries to eke out more from those photographs than they can justify.
What I am driving at here is the perspective of the flâneur in the ability to see anew. Today the term ‘flâneur’ has acquired the sense of indolence. But we can see that it could be more: the stroll as a way of living and thinking in the manner of Atget, of engaging deeply with what is around as they present themselves, not as we would wish them to appear.