I always enjoy it when an article I write resonates enough with a photographer to compel them to write an email. I’ve seen Ben’s work on other websites so was familiar with it and wanted to feature it. His response to the article was interesting so I asked if he’d be interested in fleshing it out for an article. He accepted and I think what he’s written will resonate with other photographers who are thinking about the same issues.
Photographs and text by Ben Huff
The Process, The Stream, and The End. This article came along at a good time, as it is something I have been thinking about so much over the past year. I’m interested to know whether other photographers are dealing with the same issues, how they justify sharing their work, rules they’ve imposed on themselves, and any real world feedback.
I’ve been making regular posts on my blog about a project I started in 2008 – The Last Road North. As I reach completion of the work, The End, I’m looking back at how I’ve dealt with the work on the internet and attempting to learn something about my photography, how it is received, and how I interact with the world.
When I began blogging about the project, the conversations (albeit mostly one way) I was having on my blog about photography where the only conversations I was having. The relationships I made through posting work, and talking about photography, have in many ways became the foundation in which I built my work. Some of the early photographs were passed around the internet and I began finding interest in the work. It was great. The work I was posting was based on place, a format made for the internet, and a small audience was formed. I was growing with the work, beginning to figure some things out, and to an extent wearing my heart on my sleave on the blog. I vowed early on the be honest, not to reign in my passion for what I was doing, and not fuss too much about my editing on the blog. My posts were mostly about the place, and a story that I, largely, hadn’t figured out yet.
It’s the next piece, when I began to see my own work more clearly, where the blogging got tricky. I suspect that other photographers have hit this point as well. At the point that my work began really making progress, it also became less easily defined. I had worked through just making photos of place, and had found something else. As my focus with the work became more resolute, it became increasingly more difficult to blog about it. Harder to show images. I could still show the grand vista that represented a landscape, but I wasn’t ready to show the image that only worked when it is paired with another, or the difficult image to view, or nuance.
The closer the work became to being what I envisioned in the end, the book, the more difficult it became to show successfully in the context of the blog. With this growth of the work, came a distance on the blog. I felt I was beginning to talk some of the magic out of it. I found myself being less deliberate, and this didn’t work well for a sustained investigation. In many ways I chickened out to a degree. I would be working through issues with other photographers offline, having inspired conversations, and using the blog for watered down promotion and musings. Also, I found myself posting these angst ridden posts about things I was dealing with, and not sharing photos.
As a viewer I’m sure it was all very tedious. I was prepared to wear my heart on my sleave in discussing obstacles, but rarely supported this with images. I think this is where the blogging portion is a really difficult medium. I am infinitely interested in the process of other photographers, biographies, and stories of the life. However, I wasn’t capable, or secure enough, to really go out there on the blog and lay it down. When it became not entirely about photos, but also about ideas, I began to lose the plot with blogging.
Many times over the past two years I’ve said to myself “just step back, finish the work, work it out, and come back strong”. Yet, I’ve kept sharing the work. It would be easy to say it’s all neurosis, but the work began as a very open evolution, and it’s been difficult cutting those ties. The Last Road North, for better or for worse, is a product of an open dialogue. But, as the project ends, to a large degree, so does that dialogue.
And, this is where it gets so complicated for photographers. When that blogging dialog ends, after a sustained commitment, in order to take the work to the next stage we are losing something important. For me, the End for The Last Road North is a book – no question. But, with this I am taking the work from the outlet that has been so instrumental to its evolution, and reaching an audience. The process of realizing the project as a book is daunting, and in the end is not assured. And, this is an important point from the original article – what do we do to ‘finish’ the work online, on blogs, and with our web portfolios? How do we raise the bar for the End, that carries similar weight online with the final edit, the final story, that we hope for with the book? If the photographs were made with a book in mind, how do we present this work in the digital world that compliments the intentions of the End?
Personally, as I finish The Last Road North and unplug from sharing work online as I work through the next phase, I’ll most likely start showing new work again. I’m working on two other bodies of work – both different in scope from The Last Road North. At some point, I’ll begin showing that work via my blog – maybe more, maybe less, but with more direction.
Of course, none of these issues exist if we don’t share the work through blogging in the first place. There is a strong argument, I believe, for keeping your cards close to your chest. Now, we’re right back where we started.