I'm sure many of us have set goals for 2019 to become more successful in different variations of what the word entails, but have you or would you consciously decide to start a meaningful project, one that is unlikely to give you monetary reward, but a deeply personal one? Would you set time aside for it?
The run-up to Christmas tends to be filled with different charitable initiatives, both from international organizations, as well as from people closer to home. We may be donating gifts or purchasing supplies for those who survive out in the cold streets, but why stop after ringing in the new year? You may say you cannot afford after all the festive spending, especially if you're also experiencing a quiet season in your type of work. But, trust me there is so much you can do, because photographs can bring attention to a story that really needs it, sometimes even more so than words.
Last year, I wrote about an article about photographer Grace Elizabeth, who created a "Gold Dust" project, which documented postpartum scars and stretchmarks to bring attention to the beauty of female bodies and what they go through to create life. Or, just recently, Fstoppers posted a heart-wrenching story about photographer Ross Taylor’s powerful new series which showcased the painful and emotional reality of coping with the last moments of your beloved pet's life. There are so many other inspiring stories and projects that document social history on a small scale, others on a grand one, such as those documenting the realities of wars.
However, if you want to create a meaningful project this year, start small and personal. You don't need to jump into starting something so exhaustive that you may not be able to finish it due to the lack of resources, time, or motivation. My advice has always been to look closer to home, laying out a plan and setting out deadlines. Trust me, it's better to finish a project and make a small difference in this world than to get people involved, spend money and time on it, but never actually finish it.
For example, I did a project last year that got finalized just after New Year's. I advertised on social media and through word of mouth that I was looking for participants who have adopted a cat from a shelter or taken one in from the street, because I wanted to create something meaningful to commemorate the death of my family cat and at the same time to promote adopting cats of all ages. I had several participants who took part but canceled our session, others never had enough time to arrange a date, and one of them went well, except for the fact that their cat had a fight with a neighboring one and had been hiding somewhere in the garden on the day of our shoot. Alright, so maybe not so well. But I had a wonderful conversation with the owner about all things photography and life.
Although I spent time and money managing all participants, traveling to them, creating the photographs, editing them, and then designing a printed book, it actually seemingly gave me more purpose throughout the year. In my mind, I always knew I had the mission to finish this project and to tell these fascinating stories of how people from different walks of life had ended up with a new feline family member and how it changed their lives. Yes, commercial projects and weddings paid the bills, but this is something that really pushed me and gave me something to focus on for an extended period of time, which is something not all of us are used to. You may feel that your work will not be powerful enough to positively affect the cause or subjects that you are documenting, but just the mere decision to go and speak to people who you think are incredible or do something extraordinary is enough to give them affirmation to keep going.
We have clients coming and going, and the jobs get done and finished, and the circle starts again. However, something like this makes you look at what you do in photography from a different perspective. These projects are what you will most likely remember in years to come, not the different jobs you have done for people or companies. No doubt, you may already encounter this in your paid assignments if you're lucky to get hired to do something life changing, but not all of us get that opportunity.
So, consider the people all around you and the things they do or the stories they may be able to tell to the wider world. Your job as a photographer is to record it and present it back in your style. It can be so rewarding, and it will bring another dimension to you both as a person and as a photographer.
Have you done any meaningful projects recently or are planning to? Share your stories with us!