Our Familiar

As the seasons change, semesters draw to a close or residencies end, it’s important to realize the importance of setting a routine for yourself, a routine that keeps you working.

Enrollment in a photography class or being surrounded by a community of artists is great, and keeps us working. But what happens when the classes let out, or the residencies end? For some, this will mean working in isolation and working on projects alone. Or worse not working at all.

Setting a routine for yourself will go a long way towards a continuation of your work. Try creating projects for yourself. Think thematically and let your mind run wild. Don’t limit yourself to what you know or what is familiar to you. Ask yourself, “are you pressing the shutter release because you are familiar with the subject matter before your lens, or are you taking a risk by photographing something you’ve never seen before?”

All too often we simply repeat what we’ve seen before because it’s comfortable. Think about your photography from this perspective: something new and original is sometimes difficult to appreciate and accept due in part to it’s lack of familiarity. New ideas are rarely widely embraced, in fact they typically fall at opposing ends of the spectrum, being either loved or hated. Can you remember a time before bottled water was so widely accepted? At the onset of this concept it was seen as ridiculous that anyone would ever consider developing a business in the bottled-water industry. Today there are literally thousands of brands throughout the world.

The first step toward creating a project for yourself is to let your mind go, jotting down ideas as they come to you. Consider loading your mind with new material before going to sleep at night. You’ll be amazed how this will aid in the formation of new projects. whatever you do, don’t limit yourself to what you’ve seen before just for the sake of comfort and familiarity. Starting a new project can be both exciting and daunting. The key is starting, as you progress through the work, it will evolve and take on a voice of it’s own, speaking to you along the way.

It is important not to get too attached to the images you create. At first, don’t think of these images as your children, let them be distant acquaintances. This type of relationship will allow you to sever ties when they no longer fit within the scope of the project. Keep the direction of the work loose, allowing the experience and new images to inform the series.

I am currently working on a series I’ve titled “Windows and Fences.” (more series at JohnTrefethen.com) This titled has evolved much like the work itself. Through writing and shooting over the past year, I’ve slowly formed a more solid idea of what this project represents to me. Each new image I capture fitting within the scope of the greater projects receives a keyword and is automatically cataloged among images within the group. Using Lightroom has made this a very intuative process for me, one that allows me to focus more on the capture of images and the spontaneous nature of my working methods. I refer back to the images often and ask myself questions that keep me on track.

Once you’ve captured enough work and formulated a better understanding of what it’s about, consider showing your peers. This doesn’t mean showing mom & dad or your close friends, NO! This means showing folks who will give you an honest critique, comments beyond “Wow! That’s nice,” or “Cool Shot.” If you’re not already part of a “Crit Group,” (I’m part of one that meets ever two months in the East Bay) consider joining one or forming one where you can discuss work in a more productive format. You want to know how the work effects others, arrests their gaze, informs them, and overall, how it leaves a lasting impression through the art of closure and narrative.

There are many forms of inspiration available to you today. If you’re still in school, stay there and use your program to the fullest. You should be asking questions of the faculty regarding where you can work/intern or how you can get involved in a gallery program. If you’re beyond the school years you should consider the vast array of art calls out there (I post Art Calls to TrefethenStudios’ Fan Page on Facebook. Or the various photo residencies around the world. The key is to keep working and set a routine that inspires a sustainable program.

Start working today because tomorrow is too late.

~ John Trefethen

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