institute for documentary studies

{Week 11: Photo}

Week 11: Photo

Several weeks ago, our instructor Nelson set up a meet-and-greet with last semesters’ photo students. Their strongest words of advice, from a place of experience: Get on your second project.

Many of them confessed to having locked down their second stories late in the game, and only weeks before the end of the semester. We knew deep inside that we would never be like them. We wouldn’t make their same mistakes.

Here we are now, three out of five of us, still trying to find our second stories.

One thing I’ve learned from my time here so far is that the work you do at Salt is all-absorbing. When you’ve chosen wisely, you become so invested in your documentary project that it’s hard to tear yourself away, or to allow room – or thought — for a second. In order to photograph and truly document, you become enmeshed in the everyday of your subjects’ lives.

Nelson knows this. And he’s seen our efforts to find second stories fall flat, or fall through. Ever the open and flexible instructor, he offered up his own solution: You can all work on your second project, together.

But get on it.

His proposal approached the project through a collaborative lens: Working together would allow us to explore a concept as a group, and to work off each others’ ideas, perspectives, and varying strengths while out in the field. For us, mostly, it would be rejuvenating to work in a different context.

So we’re in the process of looking into stories. And it’s clear, just in the process of talking through our ideas, that we’ve already begun to think about photography differently than when we first began our semester. The questions we pose are more thoughtful, and so are the parameters of our project: How can we tell a story that will actually benefit from multiple photographers? What stories have three different perspectives that can be told?

We’ve spent a lot of time asking these questions, because while we do want to choose a story — and soon — we want to choose one where we can grow technically and conceptually as photographers. The big question we’re looking to answer, specifically: What’s going to make this a project where we raise questions, rather than answer them?