I've spoken before about the benefits of shooting with purpose — taking on small themes or projects to keep your focus and sharpen your skills. So to expand on that topic, I'd like to talk about taking on a long-term project.
Not too long ago, friend and fellow film photographer Tom Webb wrote about his undertaking of a major project that would last for over 12 months. The idea being that he would focus on a single subject over a long period of time to create a substantial body of work. He chose to take on the Lithgow Blast Furnace as his topic. I fell in love with the idea and I began to look at my own photography in search of something that I could take on.
It hit me that I had already been focusing on beach town photography here in Southern California, and I started forming a plan that would take this concept a step further. I decided that I would make an effort to document the culture found in these beach towns near my home, and that I would stick with it for at least another year.
After some conversations with Tom, he talked me into a deadline of Winter, 2009. Between now and then, we would both pursue our project in creating this body of work. Once we approach that deadline, we'll be working on presenting our work through various avenues. Some of the ideas he and I have had for this final presentation include gallery exhibitions, art shows, documentary films, photo flip-books, etc. So it's kind of like a thesis in photography.
Why is it beneficial to take on something like this?
Focusing on a topic can give you extra inspiration and motivation. Short term projects are cool because you don't have to commit for any substantial amount of time (in case you end up hating the topic). But long term projects can keep you running when you're feeling all dried up and uninspired. These projects can be a great filler for the times when nothing else seems to be going on. Not only that, but if you stick with a project for any amount of time, the outcome of the project can be quite rewarding and a great source of pride in your own work.
So if you're looking for a way to add some true meaning to your photography, consider picking up a long term project. Choose something that's close to your heart and piques your interest. Stick with it, struggle with it, and turn it into something much greater than a single photo.