So for the past 5 weeks I’ve been taking the New Colour Projects course at The School of the International Center of Photography tutored by Christine Callahan. I haven’t done a photography course since I learnt how to shoot on manual with Dave Hodgkinson back in the dark ages of 2009.
Christine’s course jumped out at me because I’m not interested in learning technical skills or any kind of processing or printing skills. What I’m most interested in is where I take my work and how to form a cohesive project. Even though from the description I had no idea what to expect, I decided to jump in and take her course.
There were 6 students and from the get-go it was clear that this was going to be about looking, critiquing and editing. Something that was terrifying at first, but eventually became incredibly liberating was we were not allowed to present our work. Instead, we put it up on the screen or wall and the group discussed it without us saying where, when, how or why we took the pictures. It was a technique which set the work free, and it was masterful.
The first week was about our past work that had brought us to the course. Fifteen images of our choosing. I selected the best from London, some of my Car Boot Sale images, a couple of the St Pancras Piano and a few from my short time in New York.
The second week we were asked to go and shoot fifteen more, bring them in, and project them on the screen.
But it was the third week that things really changed. The assignment was to go away and shoot 36 pictures and get them printed at 4” x 6”. Not only do I very rarely print my work, but also, my output hardly ever exceeds 10-15 pictures in a week. It was actually a quite stressful assignment, but it forced me to be more proactive and also actually start a project I had been thinking about for a while.
When you come to New York there is something on the streets you cannot miss, they are everywhere and they are all the same but all different. There doesn’t seem to be a specific name for them, so I nominally call them Street Food Carts. They are most interesting at night because they have lights, big scrolling text displays and the menu sprawled all over the front of the cart.
So I took 15 pictures of the carts and pulled together 21 images from my street work. In my last blog post I had just discovered 7th Avenue and so I’ve been revisiting that area every day around lunchtime and it proved to be a great basis for my project.
I turned up for class armed with 36 pictures that I thought were pretty good, and the first thing Christine says after confirming we had taken 36 shots was, “Okay, now put 15 on the wall”. Holy shit. Everyone looked at each other and you could tell we were all thinking the same thing...we slogged to get 36 pictures at all! As it turned out, this was simply the first stage in getting us to edit our work. There was one olive branch, she looked through our rejects and rescued the ones she thought were good.
I ended up with maybe 18 images on the board. This was interesting in two ways. Firstly I don’t print my work so the only way I usually see it is one after another on a screen, in contrast, Christine’s method gives you a view that allows you to compare and contrast; a new experience. Secondly, not only had I chosen the first edit, the group then went through them and edited them further. Now, as Christine said, we have the power of veto because it’s our project, but I only really used it a couple of times because this was new and it was exciting to work like this. As they say, “kill your darlings” so I generally went with the group consensus.
The fourth week was the same with the only difference being that we brought in the previous week’s edit and displayed it next to the new images. At the end of the session we were also asked to talk about how we thought we would like to package the collection. An exhibition? A book? A zine? I talked about an idea I had been thinking about where I would blow the images up to life-size which would mean each print would end up being a different size. So I was set the task to take one of my images and print it life size for the final week’s critique.
I decided to print the image of the lonely man, which is the first image on my website. I measured the width of my head and worked out the percentage increase and blew the image up and it ended up at 51” by 32”. Not small. I chose Duggal to get it printed which is on 23rd street and after looking at the example prints they had in the shop decided to have a Digital C-Print on Glossy.
In the final week we displayed our final prints and I also printed up some of the images that I had shown on the first week that I felt should be part of the project. I also had a couple of new shots and as before I put up the entire collection, old and new. The set came to 30 images and I asked the group to lose ten pictures and this final edit forms the collection on my site called “New York Street Photography Winter 15/16”. I’ve only added a couple of images I forgot to print up for the class edit, but that I feel should be in the set.
So, in the end, this experience has changed me significantly. Not only have I met some great photographers, been forced to get it together and produce a lot more work than I am used to, but it’s taught me to be even more laser-focussed on what makes a good project. I’m confident that the images that were discarded for this project will rise again in another one, and the experience has given me lots of new ideas. It’s also taught me that when Dave Hodgkinson said ‘A picture is not a photograph until it’s printed’ As much as I hate admitting it...he is absolutely right ;)