PRODUCING A BODY OF WORK by X-Rite Coloratti Master Seth Resnick
by Sandra Kehoe – February 27th, 2015
160,000 Miles of Color – Seth Resnick
Almost any photographer can produce 10 to 20 really good images but that in itself, may no longer be enough to gain them the recognition that will take their craft further. Developing a voice or a style and eventually developing a successful body of work may help provide you with the edge to take your work to the next level.
CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR OWN WORK OR STYLE?
If you are a painter there are words to describe the style of painting that very clearly communicates the type of work you produce such as Impressionism, Realism, Photorealism, Fauvism, Surrealism. If you work in ceramics, or glass or just about any form of art other than photography the outside world gets a pretty good idea about your art. Yet, when it comes to photography, most folks just call themselves a photographer, which leaves the door wide open for interpretation. When I say that I am a photographer, I am routinely asked if I do weddings and when I say no, I am asked if I do wildlife and when I say sometimes, they are already confused. When I add in that I also photograph people and landscapes and produce commercial work for magazines, and fine art for galleries they are clearly even more confused.
Very often, photographers find it difficult cohesively describe what they do and if they can’t describe it to friends and close colleagues, they certainly can’t expect the outside world to understand. A great start is to think about what differentiates your work from someone else and then concisely put that into words. A great exercise and one that is much more difficult than it may sound is to create an elevator pitch to describe your work. Writing an elevator pitch – a statement to quickly and simply define a person, profession, product, service, organization or event – is a useful first step to understanding the work you do and being able to convey that to others. The term ‘elevator pitch’ reflects the idea that it should be possible to deliver the summary in the time span of an elevator ride, or approximately thirty seconds to two minutes and is widely credited to Ilene Rosenzweig and Michael Caruso (while he was Editor for Vanity Fair) for its origin. My own elevator pitch changes as my work evolves, but here is the current one.
“My images are a journey into the personal space of my subject. I believe that photography is not just a record of a physical presence; they are documentation of the encounter between myself and the energy from my subject. My visual philosophy is to produce images that nobody else envisions. I try to capture images that another photographer would not visualize from my “minds eye”. Ideally, someone standing next to me won’t see, feel or experience what I see. I want my viewers to see my photographs as an opportunity to consider the larger, unseen realities that contribute to the energy and uniqueness of my subjects. As a photographer, I capture a moment in time that we will never be able to get back. Capturing these moments has probably never been more important than now. Our environment is changing and I hope that my images will help foster a sense of intellectual concern for our planet, and provide moments to internalize and reflect on just how fragile it is.”
In formal terms, my work is an exploration of a packed frame typically filled with many layers in the form of light, texture and bold graphic color. I am interested in the tension that exists within the boundary of the frame.
My elevator pitch changes and gets more complicated as I continually try and break new ground in my photography. Being able to vocalize ones work is a necessary step in producing new work that breaks new boundaries.
FROM ELEVATOR PITCH TO BODY OF WORK
Once you can describe your work you will gain a better understanding of your work and you can organize your work and take steps to producing a cohesive body of work.
Ultimately our goals should be to produce bodies of work that have a cohesive relationship. For those who want to find an in with art galleries, art collectors, and client, this is a necessary step. How to go from single images or even groups of images into a truly cohesive body of work is something that many artists find to be a stifling task.
Personally I use Collections in Lightroom as a means of organizing themes and ideas with the idea that eventually they can become a body of work. I make a point of holding on to new images for a period of time to let them percolate in my mind before choosing which to add to my portfolio. Often, there’s one or two new images that initially, I might have felt were a sure addition to my collection, and after ‘living’ with the images for a while, I realize that in fact an entirely different image reveals itself as the best. For a body of work to truly work, there are some necessary elements.
Theme or Idea
The first step is to find a theme that carries all the images. It needs to be consistent and tie the works together. This theme may be helped by the inclusion of words with pictures. I was asked to do a gallery show and while I had a lot of images from all over the world that had a similar style I was missing the one piece of information I needed to tie them together.
I was travelling on a cross-country flight and although all I wanted to do was sleep, I had a fellow sitting next to me who just wanted to talk. Since sleep was not going to happen I decided to use the time to book some additional travel. When I opened my laptop, my chatty neighbor looked at my screen and said, “Wow, you travel 500 miles a day? It says that you have 160,000 miles on Delta this year, that would be more than 500 miles per day!” It got me thinking do I really travel this much? And yes, I did travel 160,000 miles in one year and BINGO – it hit me. This is exactly the theme I need to tie my images together. My show was going to be called “160,000 Miles of Color.
For me my style in my work is an exploration of a packed frame filled with many layers in the form of light, texture and bold graphic color.
To achieve a body of work the work needs to have a recognizable “style” that runs through all the pieces. Ideally someone should be able to tell it is yours without even looking at the name.
The photographer needs to have consistency in the format for the body of work. Using the same frame, paper, and inks are critical in the formation of a body of work. Some photographers indeed produce brilliant images in color and in black and white but getting B&W and color to work together in one body of work can be challenging.
There is no magic number for what constitutes a body of work but it should be a minimum of a dozen pieces.
Getting the Viewer to think or react.
Is there a message you are trying to convey to the viewer?
Look at the entire group as one.
A successful body of work needs to work as a group and there should not be any outliers. All the images must work together. Study the group with a discerning eye and ask others for their response. Are you happy with the entire grouping? Are folks reacting to the same images or different images? Does one stand out from the group? Do you need to delete it or position it next to a different image for the betterment of the whole?
None of this is easy but it is very rewarding and it is a necessary step to take your work to another level. Ask yourself the tough questions and work hard and you will be able to change your vision developing a true body of work that can provide recognition and more importantly soothe your inner voice and produce a rewarding period of growth.
Seth is an X-Rite Coloratti Master. He teaches Lightroom 5 and Digital Workflow workshops at D65 as well as Advanced Photoshop and Lightroom at The Art of Creativity Workshops with John Paul Caponigro. He uses X-Rite i1Pro Color Management solutions in his digital workflow.