From a picture to a series and a project

After having developed some thoughts about the differences between an image, a photo and a picture (see my last blog From a photograph to a picture), there is a further increase towards complexity and level in photography. It is the step from a single picture to a series or a project.

To increase the number of pictures that you present together is fascinating but also challenging. If you take a bunch of pictures and put them together, in the worst case they are merely a pile of prints… You will have to put a little effort in the choice and sequence of the photos so that they constitute a coherent series or a wide-ranging project.

A series

A series is a number of photos which are related and fit together in terms of contents, colour, composition. It is not important if you have only two photos or six or twenty. In a series, the photos must be visually related.

A series is not a collection of random shots with little or no connection. In the series, the viewer will understand what the photographer feels, says and expresses without the need for explaining words.

The important characteristic is that there is a connecting element between the single pictures: a linear is story created by a commonality through aesthetics or the connecting theme. Everything must be coherent in the logic of the topic.

The presentation is important: coherence must prevail also in the colours or tonalities. These are tools with which you can play in your series. The tonal values should be similar as these influence the overall effect. Likewise, a mixture of black/white and colour photos interrupts the visual flow and thus is not recommended.

There are different kinds of series. You may witness a developing scene that you capture in a sequence. Or the series may be based on images taken at different times or in different locations, but which deal with the same common theme that links them.

Ideally, every single picture in the series is very strong. It should be able to stand on its own. A collection of mediocre pictures will never produce a strong series. However, do not throw your second-best photos away. Taken alone, they may not be strong, but sometimes they may represent a missing link.

Take your time

When you first start a series, you will put the available pictures together and they will have a certain coherence. With more time, you will have more pictures, and you can be more selective about the pictures to include and more importantly: to exclude from your series.

The difficulty is not so much to collect more and more pictures. The real difficulty is to be strict to yourself and eliminate what is not coherent.

Better present a series of 3 photos which really go together in terms of the theme, colour spectrum, luminosity, rather than put that 4th picture in which you love so much and was so hard to take – but deep inside you know that it does not really fit. So, get rid of it. Make a new series with it, or use it as a single picture, but do not weaken a strong series just because you waited for an hour to get this particular shot and therefore you want to include it, although the composition does not match that of the other pictures in the series.

Why you should make a series

I started to make series because I ran out of ideas. It occurred that I went to the city and just had no clue what to photograph. Boredom and frustration are not what I seek for when pursuing my hobby.

So, I started to create my series. Chairs, and doors, and later hats and specific colours… it is fun to go for the colour RED in the city, or focus on hands of people, or take a series of portraits of people in their environment.

There are hundreds of possibilities and they become interesting when you start to have a coherent series. Nothing is easier than chasing for pictures to be added to a series which you have already begun. But it is also important to stick to a theme and not jump from one to another and to another while walking in the city.

A tiny little bit of discipline and focus are rewarding because in most cases the result is much more satisfying at the end of the day.

Examples of a series

I call this series “Rainy Windows”. It consists of photos I took while riding on a bus in Hamburg. I enjoyed playing with the drops and the colours. It has no specific meaning; I just like it aesthetically. And I can go on forever to complete and enhance it. There is no beginning and no end. And I am looking forward to the next rainy day – which in Hamburg is not so far away 😊.

This is my series « Lignes de La Défense » which I shot in Paris in the district of La Défense. Here, I played with symmetry and lines and the architecture. No deeper sense, and I can complete it with more pictures the next time I am in Paris.

A project

To my mind, a project is the top of the top, the culmination of photographic art. It implies to develop an idea, a statement, a productive approach and explain it through the photos.

A project is complex, and it is important to choose a stringent, understandable, expressive photo sequence. In a series the sequence is not so fundamental – it can be just an alignment of similar photos of hands, for example.

In a project, I must refer to a statement, or to the description of a circumstance that I want to document. As a contrast to the series, I first figure out what I want, which kinds of shots, and then I go out to take them. I decide what my topic should be, I have control and look for it specifically.

I usually define my topic beforehand with words, chose a title, write down a summary. This way, I focus and know exactly what I want to say and how I want to show it. If it is too complex, I break it down to 3-5 subtopics, and find keywords for each topic. Then I try to take a picture which symbolizes each of these keywords. In this way, a project also stands in contrast to a reportage: the topic of a project has a deeper content and id more complex.

A reportage is started with a research but usually rather arises in the moment. In a reportage you react to something that you see. In a project, on the other hand, you build up something which contains your own voice, it is more subjective than an objective, non-artistic report.

The final work must be carefully edited, optimized and corrected so that storytelling can flow. Whether simple or meaningful, it must always be a flowing, visually interesting story.

Completing a project is a natural development in a photographer's career. It is a step to a higher level of performance, a specific focus of work that requires a lot of experience and foresight. In order to succeed, my personal interest is fundamental: I must be enthusiastic about this project throughout! My project will reflect my passion or my concern for the subject.

If I am not deeply involved, my pictures and my project will be superficial. It is quite a challenge to make a project which is touching or exciting and can be perceived as a meaningful work of art.

Examples of a project

This is my project «Aluminium Slaves». Don’t get me wrong. It is not because I show poverty that I have an intellectually demanding project. But by documenting the life of these aluminium workers in Madagascar with just a sequence of 4 pictures I am sure you get the message: these people have a truly hard life, they work under abominable conditions, and will not live long. Yet, they have a job, earn some money and they stick together.

To end with something positive I show a documentation of Kai Behrmann’s workshop in Nice, October 2019. In my “project” – or rather reportage! – I want to show his dedication as a workshop teacher and the fun we had during the workshop with him.

By the way, Kai is coming back in summer 2020 to give another workshop in Nice!

Small prints to help you find the sequence

There is a simple method to find out which pictures fit into your series or project, and in which sequence you should present them. In workshops, we printed the whole range of pictures in an inexpensive small format.

Once everything is laid out on a table, several things come to the eye right away.

Some photos stand out as not fitting the logic of the theme or the colours and tonalities. These can be eliminated right away. The remaining pictures can then be moved back and forth on the table in order to define the sequence.

It really makes things so different to see the prints in front of you. It is more difficult to work with the abstract imagination of the effect and impact of the whole series or project which will be displayed in an exhibition.

Why differentiate between these categories

To differentiate between these three categories – picture, series, project – helps me to clarify my goal. Only if I am aware of the different steps, I can work towards increasing my level as a photographer in a targeted and controlled way and make something bigger of my art.

Pia Parolin, Biot 28/1/2020

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