Photography Theme for April: Developing a Photography Project that Matters

The photography theme at The Broke Photographer for April 2020 is, “Developing a Photography Project that Matters.” I am going to focus on the basics of getting a meaningful photography project up and working.  I will also explore the basics of publishing or selling your photography project.

I have loved photography for a long time – over thirty-five years, in fact. For most of those years, my photography was centered around a single photograph. As silly as it might sound, my goal was to make single photographs that a person would want to hang over her or his fireplace. Or, I wanted to capture that “decisive moment” (see Henri Cartier-Bresson) that deeply affected the audience. Or, I loved candid, natural family photos, which my family hated! Since completing a specialization in digital photography through Michigan State University and through years of influence from reading and lectures from photographers meaningful to me, my approach to photography has shifted from single frames to a cohesive story-telling concept.  In other words, I want to produce bodies of work, photo essays if you will, that tell a cohesive story from beginning to end.

I want to take it, however, much deeper than simply telling abstract or superficial stories.  I want to tell stories with photography that are deeply personal to me and compel people.  In other words, I want to get away from impressing other photographers and move toward transformative storytelling.

The big question that needs to be answered is, “How do you develop a photography project that matters?” This month, I am going to explore answers to that question from a variety of sources – books (most not related to photography), videos, and experience. I am going to invite successful photographic storytellers into the conversation and share what I find.

The lynchpin of a meaningful photography project is the identification of a significant conditionthat affects humanity or a particular people group.[1]Whether you seek out a condition or a condition “finds you,” it is a point of departure for developing a powerful photography project. Right now, as an example of what I mean by “meaningful,” at the top of the list of the human condition is the Coronavirus pandemic. Regardless of where you stand geopolitically on this topic, it is significant for all humans. I am already reading of photography projects that document how the Coronavirus is affecting a photographer in Italy, one of the areas heavily affected by the outbreak. She is documenting life isolated in her apartment. When searching for a meaningful photography project, one only has to look as far as our own condition affected by either internal or external influences.

Meaningful photography projects are all around us.  Jay Maisel said, “It’s always around. You just don’t see it.” Let’s start looking for the human condition.

I hope you will join me in my journey and feel free to leave a comment!

[1]Adapted from Kathleen A. Cahalan, Projects that Matter: Successful Planning & Evaluation for Religious Organizations (Durham, NC: The Alban Institute, 2003), 1.

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