The importance of reflection and editing your work

Recently my friends at Fujifilm Canada asked me to put together a collection of images for a small gallery showing.  It was an honour to be asked of course, but it also served as an opportunity to review my work… something that all artists should do from time to time.

Reviewing your work with a critical eye is an important part of growing as an artist.  It is how we see where we are succeeding, learn where we are not, see if we are repeating ourselves in our work and determine if there are gaps that need filled or new skills that need to be learned.  This process is made even more powerful when a third party, somebody who we respect, can look at our work with complete objectivity and provide us with honest feedback and recommendations.

One of the dilemmas for me when assembling a body of work for a gallery showing is the diversity of my photography (as seen above).  While street photography and travel photography make up a large part of my work, I also spend time photographing portraits, weddings and landscapes & cityscapes.  It is relatively easy to put together a gallery when you are asked to show a specific aspect of your work; but, when the request isn’t focused, there is often an urge to show all of your favourite images.  This can result in a gallery that lacks cohesion (something that is very important when showing a series of images together in print).

The following contact sheet shows some of my best images that have been made over the years.  Individually, I love all of them.  There is a lot of visual dissonance, however, when viewing them together as a body of work.

A better approach might be to consider the following questions when putting a series together for a showing:

  1. What is the purpose of this gallery?
  2. Is there anything specific that is trying to be said, or is there a story to be told, with these photos?  Or, are the photographs being featured purely as art?
  3. Do I want the viewer to feel anything specific when they look at the photographs, or should it be left to interpretation?

After some thought, review and discussion with the curator of the gallery, we decided to focus only on my street photography and not my travel, wedding or portrait photography.  While this decision meant that I would not be showing some of my favourite images, it also meant that I could quickly shift my attention to a much smaller number of photos.  These photos would be featured as artwork, rather than a series of related storytelling images, therefore I could focus on selecting my favourite street images with an eye for ones that would compliment each other when displayed side by side on the wall.

The next step was to create a “fat edit” that included my final candidates for this small street photography gallery.  This edit can be viewed in the contact sheet below:

While viewing these images as thumbnails like this, the next decision that I had to make became clear to me:  Do I go all black and white for cohesion, or show a mix of black and white with colour images?  Looking at the fat edit of 20 images, there were 14 black and white and 6 colour.  My immediate concern about the final 10 images was:  what if I end up with a gallery that is lop sided toward black and white?  Ultimately, after seeing how the curator intended to print, frame and hang these images, I was comfortable including a mix of black and white with colour images.

After some thought and discussions with trusted friends (again, reach out to those who will give you honest feedback), the final selections were:

During this process, which was as much about reflecting on my work as it was preparing for the gallery showing, the following thoughts occurred to me:

  1. I love the direction my work is heading in with regard to the use of light and shadow.  I will continue to focus on this aspect of my photography.
  2. Every one of my final selections was taken candidly.  I have hundreds, if not thousands, of street portraits where I interacted with my subjects but not one of them made it into the final selections.  I need to think more about if this just confirms my love of candid photography, or if I should place more focus on my portraiture in the future and develop that aspect of my work further.
  3. I tend to shoot very close when working on the street, filling the frame with my subject.  I do love, however, the images I’ve taken where the environment dwarfs the subject.  I have made a mental note to create and include more of these compositions in my work moving forward.

During this process I also deleted almost 400 photos from my library.  I think it is important to only keep and show your best work, but I also recognize that our definition of “best” changes over time.  I usually go through a cycle where I love a photo when I first take and process it, only to not like it anywhere near as much when I look back at it 3 or 6 or 12 months later.  I think this sometimes happens because I loved the experience of taking the photo more than the photo itself, or because I have simply grown as an artist and my expectations have changed.  Either way, I find whenever I spend time reviewing my work like this I always end up deleting photos from my library in addition to having new thoughts for what I want to shoot in the future.

This reflection is a valuable process, one that I encourage every artist to go through from time to time.  It gives you the opportunity to celebrate successes, to see your growth over time and to gain objective data with which you can goal set for the future.  When I view my own work I see so many areas for improvement, but I am also proud to see it laid out like this:

That last point is important:  Don’t be the proverbial “angst ridden artist”.  I see way too many people taking this process too seriously, like that is the only way to be a “real” artist.   That is false, of course.  Art should bring us joy, both the final product we create and the process of making it.  We should reflect honestly, we should identify areas for improvement, but we should also be damn sure to celebrate our successes too.

I’d like to go back to the gallery showing to express my final thought…

Seeing these photos in print, side by side on the wall, was amazing.  So many people have uttered the phrase “a photograph isn’t real until it is printed” and I fully agree with this sentiment.  A photograph is so much more than digital ones and zeroes and you develop a whole new appreciation for your work when you hold it in your hands or see it up on a wall.

Many thanks to Fujifilm Canada for this opportunity.  Now, as my friend Valerie Jardin likes to say, it is time to grab my camera and hit the streets!

Cheers,

Ian

The Best of 2015 – A Year in Review

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Editing a year’s worth of photography down to the 25 images that most represent your work is a difficult task, especially when it has been the most rewarding year of your photographic career.

I traveled a lot this year, visiting Hawaii, Paris, Seattle, Las Vegas, and various locations throughout my home country of Canada.  I had incredible moments with my camera, met brilliant people, saw beautiful places, and got to tell stories about these experiences here on this website.

I continued shooting the occasional commercial job (portraiture, weddings, lifestyle and fitness), and most importantly for me I pursued my love of street photography as often as I could.

Away from the camera I made new relationships with photographers I respect,  I guested on a popular photography podcast, and I began sharing my knowledge through teaching workshops and presentations.

Finally, I had the privilege of continuing my relationship with Fuji Canada and reviewing several products in the X series, including the new Fuji X-T10 camera, the Fuji Instax SP-1 printer, and four new lenses (the 16-55mm f/2.8, the 50-140mm f/2.8, the new 35mm f/2, and the 90mm f/2 review which will soon be published).

What a year!

Let’s look back at some of my favourite photographs from the year.  I have divided them into three sections (travel photography, commercial work, street photography), and at the end of this post I’ll give a brief outline of things already planned for 2016.

All photos in this post were taken with either the Fuji X-T1, the Fuji X-T10, or the Fuji X100t.

Let’s get started…

Travel Photography

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Commercial Work

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Street Photography

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What’s coming up in 2016?

I’m excited to say that 2016 is already shaping up to build on the momentum of 2015, and promises to be another exciting year.

My first speaking engagement in 2016 will be a presentation on street photography on January 26th.  This is something I want to build on throughout 2016, so if you are a member of a camera club or organization, and would like a guest speaker to present on travel photography, street photography, or on working with Fuji’s products, please let me know!

In regard to travel,  I will be in Europe twice in 2016 (Amsterdam and London), and there will also be at least one photography road trip through parts of North America.

I am very excited to announce the launch of a new interview series on the website that will showcase photographers whose work I respect and love.  The first interview will drop early in January.

I will be shooting portraiture and street photography as often as I can.

Finally, I will be continuing my journey of learning how to see the world through the lens of a camera.  David duChemin said “Gear is good, Vision is better”.   My main goal in 2016, as it should be for all visual artists, is to continue to learn how to see better.

I would like to end this post by saying thank you.  Thank you to the people I have collaborated with on projects.  Thank you to those who trusted me enough to hire me for their portraits and weddings.  Thank you to those who offer me advice, guidance, and inspiration.  Thank you to the readers of this site, and to those of you whom I engage with daily on social media.  Thank you to my friends at Fuji Canada for all of your support over the last year.  Finally, thank you to my lovely and patient family who understand my need to spend as much time with photography as I do.

Photography is amazing.  I am so lucky.

Best wishes to all of you over the holiday season!

Cheers,

Ian