a place for sharing all things photographic and some things not

On Personal Work (and also a departed railway station)

One of the things that I figured I should write about is the personal project. I recently stumbled upon a great article regarding this and will also be drawing out quotes here and there in the process. Anything in italics is quoted from the article.

Photoessays/stories and other larger bodies of work are what will become the portfolio of any photographer. While a great single might win you a POYI or two, it’s the projects that most editors will look at, they are the equivalent of a results sheet to a photographer. Which is why they are so incredibly important.

For my first mentorship, we were mentored on how to do a long photo project, the entire project compressed into a number of days of non-stop shooting which taught us more than we had ever learnt before. Doing a long term work is important “if you care about growing as a photographer and therefore as a person” Indeed, if I had never done my first long term work (the railway images that you’ve been seeing here and there), I probably wouldn’t be here blogging away and many other things would never have happened.

“I’d suggest starting with a subject that you care about, whether you stumble upon it or have to push yourself to figure out what you care about. The more outside of your interest or what matters to you the subject is, the harder it will be to stick with the effort.”

Personally, I’ve had a fixation with things from the past, this sentimental obsession that plagues my every day life (including my music preferences). The closure of the station was to me a no brainer really. It coincided with my mentorship and it fit in perfectly with my overly sentimental/romantic ideals.

farewell, mother and son

Once you have a topic or a subject, start doing research. Learn everything you can about that person, that place, that subject. See what else has been written, photographed, researched.

Unfortunately I didn’t have a lot of time to conduct research, and there wasn’t a great deal about it anyway. Only a single page from Wikipedia. Most of my research was done on the ground, interviewing all the stallholders, getting a feel of the location and spending hours just sitting there. It was through this method of just being there through which I got most of my information (and also, images).

Shopkeeper Mala with her daughter who does not intend to continue the business, but instead intends to go into the travel industry

The goal then is to find an approach to the subject that tells an interesting story

By entering a realm with your camera, you’ll begin to understand things more deeply, you’ll see things you can’t from afar and realize potentials.

I can find no better way to phrase this really. With my camera in hand, it not only opened me up to new opportunities, it also made me look at things more closely and visually and the extra attention yielded knowledge or ways to see that I had previously not seen. Honestly, there are only so many ways that you can photograph a train station before you get repeats. The trick is in seeing new things, things that were previously unseen. Out of the many images I took, there were remarkably few repeats. It was a nonstop process of experimentation of new things to figure out what worked and what didn’t.

Of course not everything you photograph will end up in the final edits.

Remarkably true. Out of all the images that I took (going into the low thousands), there are only 50 or so that are really remarkable and usable. As I said before, numbers help (to a certain extent). It was a brutal but necessary step to slash everything that I felt didn’t belong in the set. In the end, for my final exhibition, there were only 5 images. (Though others have ended up in other places).

one thing to ask yourself is if you want the project to end by asking or answering a question, by leaving things all neatly concluded or leaving loose ends for the viewer to wonder about?

And is there ever an end to a photo project? To me I believe that it’s all a matter of interest. Once you’ve grown tired of something, it will show in your images. The best images are made from things that you are passionate about, because you will give your all to make sure they work. Sometimes what is needed is to step back and just review everything that you have. And other times, if you feel that you have hit a dead end, it’s perfectly fine to cut all ties. Your work can only be as good as you believe it will be.

for me, there was a definite ending. Here, the Sultan of Johore salutes to the gathered crowd before he drives the last train out of the station.

But most important of all is that you begin. It doesn’t matter what or how, just as most people have trouble getting out of bed in the morning, it’s always the starting that is the most difficult. Get past that, and nothing will hold you back.

As promised, the link to the well-written article on the longer form of photography (the visual narrative)!

Shopkeeper, Naseer, embraces his niece as the station nears it's last day and he prepares to move out to the new station in Woodlands.


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