100 Faces: The Challenges of a Long-Term Project
Shooting model tests, images for a client, or even just random images for my portfolio is often a relatively quick affair. I schedule the shoot, do the appropriate planning which usually takes a few days or so, do the shoot, then I’m done. If only all photographic endeavors could be that streamlined and fast. For years I was used to that approach, but after becoming more project-oriented, I quickly realized that some projects benefit from being spread out over time. This ensures the project not only maintains a certain level of quality, but allows you to create lots of options to choose from once you do your final edit. But working on a project for a long period of time can present some unique problems.
To my surprise, 100 Faces took me a year to complete. Originally I’d planned on going out over a series of 2-3 days, post up at a random spot in the city and bring people over to a designated area to take their picture. With the sheer amount of people in New York, that probably would have worked quite well in terms of volume. One can go to Times Square and see thousands of new people each hour. Logistically, it would have been easiest. Creatively, I believe it would have been boring. So I changed my original plan and decided to just hit the pavement and actively search for interesting people. Sure, it’s harder work and more stress on my joints, but the journey was much more engaging. It’s exciting to walk the streets, not find anyone, and just when you’re about to head home you bump into the perfect person.
Doing the project this way definitely took a much longer time. The first day I went out, I was lucky enough to photograph 10 people. So I thought to myself it would only take 10 or so days to complete the project if I met my 10 people a day quota. Boy was I wrong. Some days I’d go out and couldn’t find anyone of interest. Other days I’d go out and just wouldn’t be in the mood to engage with people. Then there would be days I’d plan to go out and the weather would be less than favorable. Or I was too busy that week to get out and shoot at all. One month I took off several weeks just to regroup and give myself a break. Trying to hit a certain number a day creates a ton of unnecessary pressure, so I decided to nix that idea as well and just shoot how many people I could within a certain time frame. Going about it that way made my approach much more manageable. I would plan to walk around specific areas of the city for a certain amount of time (an hour for example). And if I captured someone interesting that was a success for the day.
This in turn extended the length of the project even further. It was then I decided not to rush the project and just let the images come naturally. If it took me longer than originally expected that would be ok as long as I was creating strong imagery. Looking back at the beginning of the project, what originally was planned to only take 2-3 days turned into a year. I’m even amazed I stuck with it as long as I did.
Which brings me to my point. Working on a long-term project is very challenging. Both physically and artistically.
First, it can be very difficult to stay motivated about a project the longer you work on it. You get tired of the work and have a strong desire to do something else. That’s why it’s essential to take breaks from it, then return with a fresh perspective. After looking at the images over and over, they lose a bit of the luster they once had when you took them originally. This is one of the reasons I hardly look at my work after I’ve completed it. I like to take long periods away from it, then come back to give it an honest look. I prefer to see my own work with a fresh set of eyes. Some of the images in this project, I didn’t look at for months but when I’d come back to them I would be so pleased with what I’d done. That would motivate me to create even more.
Second, this is obvious, but it takes time. A lot of time. You have to make sure you dedicate ample time each day, week, or month to continue working on the project. This amongst other obligations such as work, your personal life, and just R&R time. There would be times where I was exhausted from a busy work week then realize, “Oh shit, I haven’t shot anything for 100 Faces!”. You have to make the time even when you don’t have much of it to spare. And be careful if you take too much time off. Getting motivated all over again is a challenge in and of itself. Sorta like adhere to a gym routine. If you make it a daily/weekly thing at least it will be more routine so you don’t have to motivate yourself as much.
Third, you may end up disliking the work after all. By this I mean, as time progresses you change and evolve as an artist. For me personally, I’m always looking for new ways to improve my work. New lighting techniques, a new subject matter, or even a new way of presenting the work. As these new developments occur in the midst of working on an existing project, you may find yourself displeased as the “old work” doesn’t match the fresh, new direction you wish to go in. Maybe that’s more of a problem I had personally, but I think it’s worth mentioning. My advice in this situation is to finish what you started and use your new techniques on a future project or try to mix it into the current project you’re working on.
Lastly, it’s exhausting physically. Well my project was. Walking the streets day in and day out is quite tiring. I’m relatively young and fit, and even for me it wore on me physically after a while. Especially on those hot summer afternoons or freezing winter mornings. I hate the cold, so I was kicking myself saying, “I should have finished this project during the summer!” However, the seasons allowed for a change in my subjects in terms of their attire and even demeanor. It also adds an overall nice contrast to the project. Not everyone can be shown wearing t-shirts or tank tops. It’s nice to see people wearing layers to reflect the season. But still, it’s tiring. Be prepared for the long haul if you’re project goes as long as mine did.
On a positive note, one of the benefits of stretching a project out over time is that it allows you to make adjustments as the project takes shape. With 100 Faces, I often realized I had many people that looked similar or were wearing similar clothing. Out of 300-something people, I had at least 30 people wearing hats of similar shapes and sizes. The images sort of blurred together. One time I realized I had too many men and not enough women. So for the upcoming weeks I would focus exclusively on photographing women just to have a bit more balance.
In the end, the project definitely benefitted from making adjustments as I went along so overall I’m glad it stretched it out. Hopefully this article gives you an idea of some of the challenges a long-term project presents and you’ll be aware of the pitfalls on your own project.
I hope you enjoyed this little write up and will come out to the exhibition. I’ll be posting once a week from now until the show sharing my thoughts and any other interesting info regarding the project.
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