“Passion is in all great searches and is necessary to all creative endeavors.” W. Eugene Smith
Image of Two boys. It was hard to take a bad picture of these two guys. I just framed and shot, but not just once. There was something going on between them, so I kept shooting and got a series of interesting expressions. This was my favorite.
All I ever wanted to do was take pictures.
When I was 16, I spent a dream summer riding around my home city of Montreal on a 70cc motorcycle with an all-mechanical Nikon FM and 35mm lens dangling from my neck. Inspired by the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson, I wandered the streets like I imagined Bresson did, documenting community life for a local weekly newspaper that no longer exists. And I got paid for it!
I can make a life in photography, I thought, and that’s what I did.
Years later, after graduating from university with a journalism degree, I couldn’t contain my enthusiasm for quick-starting my photojournalistic career. I was young and idealistic on that first day at The Edmonton Journal, anxious to aim my camera at issues and stories I thought were important.
Fast-forward a decade. After 10 wonderful, sometimes frustrating, but always stimulating years as a news photographer, I often found it difficult to stay fresh and challenged.
Daily assignments had made me a skilled and quick-working photographer able to deal with a variety of situations and squeeze the strongest image out of any assignment.
Yet I had become impatient, often retreating to my comfort zone, feeling forced to work in a formulaic way because of time constraints and a kind of creative stagnation. I still loved photography, but I was ready for a photographic change. I wanted to slow down and find my way back to the innocence of vision and sheer joy I felt as a young photographer looking for that next great picture.
PASSION & THE PERSONAL PROJECT
In the evolution of a photographer, to get to a higher level with your work, you need to liberate yourself from photographic routine. Photography is a creative pursuit and every photographer has a unique vision of the world. But to get to the core of our photographic souls is to be honest with ourselves and ask, “What is it I am trying to say through my photography?”
Is it the beauty of life that inspires you or do you want to shine a light and bring awareness to a subject, issue or group of people you admire or are worried about?
Henri Cartier-Bresson said “photography is a way of shouting how you feel”— and for many of us, how we feel about the world is complicated, and we have much to say through our work. Enter passion for the personal project.
If there’s one concept I want you to take away from my writings, it’s that the most rewarding part of photography is often when you find a project or theme you feel passionate about. Don’t get me wrong, I love wandering the world with serendipity as my guide. But with a project, you find direction and hopefully meaning. And when you know what you’re looking for, you’re more likely to find it. Directing your energy and passion into a theme allows you to “peel the onion” for deeper coverage and stronger work.
I learned early on that the journey itself can be the best part of the process. The images I create are the rewards for my effort and memories for the great experiences my camera has led me on. And my growth in photography has been accelerated by finding personal projects that allowed me to create a set of pictures where the sum of the work was greater than the individual photos.
There may be nearly two billion pictures taken every day, but I still believe in the power of the photograph to make a difference in the world. By finding meaning and purpose in your picture-taking, you will learn about yourself while elevating your personal photographic vision. More coming.
My years as a newspaper photographer were a powerful photographic and life experience, but I was ready to slow down and take on a longer-term personal project.
July 4th in Choteau, Montana. From the America at the Edge project.