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Do Projects Matter?

Do Photo Projects Matter? I didn’t use to think so. It’s a standard recommendation at a certain point in your progress as a photographer. Always seemed kind of bogus to me. I could never think of a project I wanted to do until I fell into one completely by accident. A couple of years ago, I had an idea about doing articles for western magazines. I travelled to my old haunts in northeast Oregon, ranch and cattle country. I was lucky enough to be introduced to a ranch manager who very kindly gave me “free rein” to photograph and participate in any ranch activities I liked. I was hooked! I ended up photographing ranch life on three different occasions: Fall roundup, Spring branding, sorting and the move to summer pasture, and the roundup from summer pastures and move to winter pastures. I gradually gained a better understanding of ranch life, its annual cycle and the hard work involved. I didn’t think of it as a project initially, but gradually realized that was what it was - an ongoing photo idea that I was committed to with specific goals and a time frame.

The magazine articles were never published. But, I learned some things about telling a story and learned a great deal about a way of life I’ve always been interested in.

Now, I’m engaged in another project with twin goals: 1) document the life cycle of migratory birds in the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges of southern Oregon and northern California. 2) document the work life of the staff of the National Fish and Wildlife Service refuge.

To achieve these goals, I will be spending a total of about 3-4 months in the Klamath basin, 2-4 weeks in each season. Enough time to get to know the multiple refuges around Klamath Falls. In addition, as a volunteer 20-hours-per-week, not only will I gain additional insights into the work life of the staff, but I will get a free parking place for my travel trailer, a nice perk. I will get the opportunity to photograph the wildlife of the area in a way that I’ve longed to for some time including still and video documentation. I hope to gain some skill in videography along the way since this is a new challenge for me. I want to learn more about western wildlife, their habitats and their life cycles. We’ll see. Ambitious, yes. But you need goals in life. Otherwise, you just drift along not achieving much and feeling vaguely dissatisfied. At least, I do. I’ll keep you posted.

So, my point of view has changed. Projects do matter, at least to me. They teach you planning, storytelling and force you to focus intensively on a given photographic subject.

What do you think? Do projects matter? What projects have you done? Thanks for reading and commenting. Contact me with questions or ideas.