Headshot, portrait, street and documentary photographer in NYC and Jersey City

alastair.arthur@gmail.com

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Starting better personal projects

Traveling, for me, means the chance to catch up on some podcasts, especially when it's a trip back to England and the 7-8 hour flights between New York and London (along with a good book and maybe an in-flight movie, if the system in cattle class is working). A couple of episodes this week in particular made me pause and think more about my approach to personal projects.

Individual images are great and can carry power and beauty and tell their own story. But there's a depth and richness in a well curated group of images. Like the depth of a great album over a hit single. A collection of images or a project brings so many possibilities of creativity, of different perspective or moods or emotions. Of multiple narratives and nuance. Of images whose power is in complementing others or filling a gap in the larger story.

The first podcast episode that made me reach for a notepad (app) was an interview with Joanne McArthur on The Fujicast. It's an excellent podcast by the way, especially for wedding photographers and not just those shooting with Fujifilm gear. She talks about her desire to work on a meaningful project and how she considered going to document conflict in Afghanistan, but then being advised that it ‘wasn’t her’. She probably could have done it well anyway, but instead found a project that she already had a deep interest and passion for. She started photographing animals, and especially those mistreated or used by people. It developed into We Animals.

The next was from ‘A Small Voice’ podcast, with Magnum associate Sohrab Hura. I won’t attempt to summarize it fully because there's too much good content and you should listen to it. Sohrab chooses not to use the term 'projects', but I love how thoughtfully he considers the images and how honest he aims to make them to his feelings and experience. It’s very much his life and his reactions to his family and personal circumstances that he’s used to create the images.


The real challenge to me from these is not to look too far for personal projects. Not in terms of geography, but in terms of personal experience and passions. 'Shoot what you love' has been said many times, and holds true. Why wouldn't we? Except that sometimes it's more comfortable to photograph when we're away, visiting, on vacation, with strangers, on assignment. But it's also a case of looking for the narrative, the feelings. To think about what I want to say about the subject or theme. Not to force a narrative into the images, or even to necessary have a narrative in mind in the first place, but to have a reason for the images. Maybe it's a question. Thinking more on Sohrab Hura's work, "Who am I?" might be a good place to start.




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