The Editorial Challenge
Long Term Photographic Projects
I LOVE this photograph. Yep, capital letters and bold, yet I already know it has no place for inclusion in the final output of The Marilyn Project. Why is this if I love it so much? That’s easy; It’s not at all instantly recognizable as a take on that iconic Marilyn Monroe flying dress image. Could it fit if I made it fit? Sure but there’s other reasons it doesn’t work in the context of how I envision the project in it’s complete state either in exhibition print form or in the book.
This is an easy example to pick out from the raw material made for the project so far. It serves as an example of a dilemma that’s not so easy to detect as the any project progresses. When working on a personal project the only criteria is that which you yourself create. While true that when there is external criteria, client demands, specifications, commercial considerations, etc. that may exclude your personal selections, it does make it easy because at the end someone else makes the determination of what “works”.
With personal work I have extreme difficulty when the field work is done and it’s time so produce output. The difficulty lies in that personal preferences and biases and things only you might know influence decisions based on solo photographs vs. what may be best in the context and juxtaposition of the project as a whole. This is especially true for books.
The image on the right is one that I also like a lot and right now it fits everything I know about how I want the project to look. Here’s the rub; Depending on all of the other images I make of 48 more people the frame I exposed right before it or maybe right after it may work better in a print exhibition when displayed immediately adjacent to another photograph. I will have no idea until I’m done. Even then my bias towards this one may negatively influence the choice I make when a different one of Mary may work far better. What’s needed is a somewhat objective editor. Obvious but harder than one might think to find for personal work. One that’s not personally biased towards you or at least biased in the way that is productive to the project as a whole. One that “gets” where the project is going and whose influence and input will make it as best that it can be.
I would be ecstatic to see some sort of editorial collective or network for personal photographic work. If one exists I’m unaware. As a photographer making personal work it’s all to easy to be too close to the work. Insignificant details that matter to nobody but you and do not serve the project may enamor and hypnotize you. Details like how beautiful one particular highlight is or something nobody cares about — how hard any given frame was to make, or worse what was going on that an observer cannot see.
A counter example to the left, an image of Jessica I don’t like at all. I don’t like this point of view, the dress, the lack of gesture, the angle of the light and the way it grazes across her legs, and the list goes on. For all I know at this point that image might work the best if I happen to sequence what comes in book for from number 1 thru number 50 depending completely on my selection for No. 7 and No. 9 which I’ve not even made yet. Without an editor my initial bias against this particular photograph may relegate it to something I’ll never again look at after today when I was selecting images I don’t like.
This is the editorial challenge of long-term personal photographic projects. I’m sure there are those of you out there that have suffered through this many times. I predict it because I have as well. If anyone has strategies beyond putting a little time and distance between yourself and the work I would love to hear them.