Los Angeles, 2011.
Joerg Colberg over at Conscientious has a thoughtful post about single photographs: shots that aren’t made as part of a series and can hang out just fine on their own. He kindly illustrates it with this Instax photo, which I took while stuck in L.A. traffic, not feeling particularly conceptual.
I’ve done photo projects, and admired other people’s, but I think at heart I’m a single-shot shooter. I love roving around with a camera with no idea of what I’ll get. Afterward, I’ll sometimes sort my photos into groups based loosely on location, the camera I used, or their general vibe, but I rarely think about that when shooting. Ideally I’d like each photo to work on its own; if it gains some resonance by being part of a set, that’s a bonus. That’s what works for me, anyway.
Every now and then I’ll do a project with more specific content, like striped industrial buildings. Those can be fun, but they don’t hold my attention too long. My biggest past project, Station to Station, was conceptual in terms of the NYC locations I shot but not the content of the photos, which worked well for me. (The Portland Grid Project has similar map-based rules.)
Of course many pre-planned photo series can be excellent, both in the fine art and documentary worlds. But there’s an imbalance in the art scene, with stand-alone, off-the-cuff photos rarely getting the same attention as conceptual projects. How would ’70s-era William Eggleston or Stephen Shore fare today if they were showing their portfolios around as total unknowns? Or ’60s-era Garry Winogrand? Hopefully at some point the art world will come back around to appreciating single shots. (Until then there are always DIY approaches for getting things out there … and Tumblr.)