I was previously discussing whether text, or supplemental material, be it audio, video, music, etc., was necessary for a photographic project. I think we all know the answer is, ‘it depends,’ but as photographers we struggle with that concept. Shouldn’t the work stand on its own, without the aid of some other item that stimulates the senses? For a while I would have answered ‘yes’ to that question. I’d argue that ‘pictures should stand solely on their own, without any direction or other sensatory ques from the artist.’ Over time, however, I’ve decided to completely disown that idiotic way of thinking.
Each project is different. Some projects require nothing more than the images, while others require much more than that. I say require, because so often we think of these things as choices when often they are not. They are needs. I truly believe that artistic endeavors are living things. I’m not a spiritual person, per se, but an artistic project lives its own life…very often when we don’t want it to. That life can be bad or good, or even great, but as artists we must guide its life. We are the project’s parents. Of course, unlike real children, we can abandon projects relatively guilt free if we choose to.
Many times I’ve begun a photographic project, only to see it keep failing miserably. I did not love it enough. I didn’t love it from the start and I certainly didn’t nurture it. So it failed and lived a horrible life. There is nothing wrong with that, because I have many more ideas to bring into existence. Hopefully their lives will be more fulfilling, but, I need to understand the needs of those ideas and projects.
As I said above, some projects are nothing more than a set of pictures, a little text and it’s an epic piece of art. I think of Sebastiao Salgado a lot. He’s not adding video, and audio, and he’s not bringing in sea lions and trainers to accompany the launch of his book ‘Genesis.’ So clearly, if you’re good enough, all you need is a set of powerful images, maybe an artist statement, or picture titles, and that’s it? Right? Completely wrong I say! That’s what Salgado may have needed, but that’s just him.
I also think of Stanley Kubrick a lot. He worked for many years as a stills photographer, cameraman, chess hustler and B- movie director, long before he made ‘Paths of Glory,’ at the age of 29. It was almost 10 more years, after that, until he made a movie he didn’t completely disown. Time is own your side, is my point, but I digress. Kubrick always said that his eye for cinematography began in the 1940’s with a stills camera. He worked for ‘Look’ magazine at a time when photo essays had wide circulation. His work was often accompanied by a formal essay on the subject matter. As Kubrick began to research motion pictures, he decided to shoot a silent documentary about a small time boxer. He later added dubbed audio tracks. Why? Because the project needed it. On and on, throughout his career, Kubrick added elements to his art that fulfilled the project. Set design, lens choice, camera choice, audio, background are all things required for a Kubrick picture to work. And, of course, they always did.
So every project has its needs, every project has the potential to lead to another one and nothing should be off the table. If your stills project requires a full length documentary film to fulfill it, then that’s what it needs. You can argue with it, or you can do the work required. I try to choose the latter as often as I can. Ultimately, don’t get into a fight with yourself because your project needs additional elements. All children want things, but it’s our duty to give them what they need. Give that to your project, and watch it live a fulfilling life.