Through current technology, the availability and ability to take a picture is phenomenal; today, most of us own or have easy access to a camera in some form or another; smartphones, tablets, webcams and DSLR’s are now quite common household items. So it is not surprising to read that approximately 728 million public photos were uploaded to Flickr in 2015.
With so many photographs out there, trying to find an original idea for your photography project can be increasingly difficult. Just a quick search online may yield scores of images on the subject that you are investigating; perhaps even a series from a photographer, along with an artist’s statement that echoes those thoughts you have had in your head for ages.
What happens now…?
Well for a start, I typically hear from students upon discovering that their project already exists, an all too familiar line:
“It’s already been done, I can’t copy them, and so I might as well give up…”
After a metaphorical slap, or two! I typically point out, that even though their idea appears to have already been done; they should still pursue it, as it will not be the same. Even if the visual appearance and/or idea are what they had in mind; so what, it will still be their creation, formed from their experience and skills as a developing visual artist.
Does this sound familiar? Well it happened to me last year at an exhibition, which I will discuss later in another blog-post; I’m digressing now… Anyway, let us look at a couple of projects from two photographers, which although they appear similar, they really are quite individual.
The first project, presented as very tightly cropped, black and white triptychs; titled ‘Marked’ 2009-2010, by Claire Felicie, documents three stages of a soldier’s facial appearance taken before, during and after a tour in Afghanistan. The first portrait was taken five months before deployment, the second during their tour and the third taken two months after their return.
The second project, presented as tightly cropped, colour triptychs; titled ‘We Are Not The Dead’ 2010, by Lalage Snow, documents three stages of a soldier’s facial appearance taken before, during and after a tour in Afghanistan. With the first portrait, the majority were taken in March of 2010 before their deployment; the second was shot during their tour in the June and the third was taken in October after their return.
So on the surface, we have two, nearly identical projects both in appearance and theme. They both explore the effects of war through examining the facial changes of the soldiers. They are both shot at three distinct stages, the before, during and the after. They are both presented as triptychs in a standard linear order, read from left to right and in both, the soldiers depicted were all deployed to Afghanistan.
So are they different?
Well, YES, they are. Although they appear similar, the catalyst for their formation, the process in which they were made and how they are presented changes significantly. It is not until you start researching further that you discover these subtle differences.
One difference is the timing between the before and after picture, with Felicie’s images the time gap is thirteen months and with Snow’s the gap is eight months. So almost half a year’s difference; I now ask, does this difference make more of an impact, does it show more contemplation in the eyes of these soldiers? Is there a point, a marker in time where these explored changers occur?
Other differences, which could evoke alternated readings:
The soldiers in Felicie’s series are the 1st Battalion, 13th Infantry Company of the Royal Netherlands Marine Corps and in the Snow’s series they are the 1st Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland. Felicie’s eldest son is a marine, this was the catalyst for her producing the work; perhaps this now touches on the theme of motherhood. Snow worked as a freelancer for the French international news agency AFP and spent time in Iraq and Afghanistan and witnessed, first hand the effects of war on soldiers.
An important difference is in the presentation, particularly with Snows, in which each image is accompanied by text from the soldiers at each stage. This text anchors each image and gives clarity to what we may have been speculating in our reading. Now you can view both Felicie’s and Snow’s project as being unique, they are different and are both original in their own right.
So when you are researching an idea you have for a photography project and believe it has already been done, look further, conduct more research and basically just get on with it and start shooting. As through the act of creating you will develop and evolve, your methods and intentions will differ and in the end your work will not be a copy; it will stand in its own right.