Finding inspiration in my proverbial backyard has always been difficult for me. I tend to work better, that is, I make more interesting pictures when I am on the road. Some have embraced this ethic, by encouraging me to travel. Others have suggested that I try and find true inspiration for documentary here in Atlanta. Either way, finding a great project to focus on is difficult, but it is particularly more difficult when I am confined by the landscape I am familiar with. I wonder why that is? I have an idea.
We see things better when they are new. This isn’t a revolutionary concept, but it is worth thinking about when working on a photographic project. When I was in Africa, for the first time, everything held my interest. From a coke machine to an older Muslim gentleman just walking by. What is commonplace for North Africans is fascinating to my Western eyes. So I take a picture of it. I encapsulate that moment, that instant, in a photographic frame because it is special to me. It means something to me and I want to communicate that with whoever sees the picture.
Back in Atlanta, my hometown, everything has become commonplace to me. In other words, it is familiar and doesn’t hold a sense of fascination. Some photographers have found incredible ways to document the familiar (I’m thinking of Daidō Moriyama, William Eggleston and Jacob Aue Sobol), but I am not them. I need an end goal to focus on. I need a direction or else I’m grasping at straws, stabbing in the dark, or whatever. Ralph Gibson refers to this concept as a Point of Departure. His friend and mentor, Dorthea Lange told him, “You will never make interesting work without a point of departure.”
I am not suggesting that people can’t make incredible work without an end goal or project in mind, but it can help give direction or, for me, purpose. Even if I am in a new location, where visual stimuli are seducing me, it helps to have a guiding point. What am I trying to communicate? How do I want a story to unfold? These are a couple questions I think about. Research definitely helps, and that is my most valuable tool. I never walk into a place blind, even if I am traveling for pleasure.
My mind is constantly thinking about the next project, and I have to remind myself to slow down. Graduate School requires a fresh, new idea every ten weeks. It is challenging to keep up with the demand, but it is required. In a way it is a good thing. Efficiency, focus and production are synthesized in graduate school. If I get completely off track, I don’t have much time to make up the difference. It is a good work ethic to maintain. My point of departure helps to keep the work moving. Again, these ideas will not work for everyone, and I am constantly adjusting the way I produce content. However, I think it is important to think about how one works best? Under what conditions do you produce your best material? Find that, and make great art!