Friday, January 17, 2020

On Projects

All photographs in this post are from my book Georgia: A Backroads Portrait.
A small, country church in Dooly County, south Georgia

 People who take up photography with serious intent to make good photographs sometimes find that, after an initial period of excitement, things aren't working all that well for them. Their pictures seem bland and uninspiring, not at all what they had hoped to achieve. A photo-malaise sets in. They switch cameras and lenses, take workshops, perhaps experiment with film, seek to emulate other photographers -- all good things, but not the solution. They are part of the process of photography -- not the purpose. As the always iconoclastic and often perceptive Andrew Molitor says,

"Photographers, culturally, seem to have a terrible problem with looking for technical solutions to creative problems."

The cure for photo-malaise is not process, it is purpose. Why are you taking pictures? If the goal of making pleasing photographs is simply to make pleasing photographs, your efforts will sooner or later run out of steam and lapse into photo-malaise.

Fayette County Courthouse, Fayetteville, Georgia

I was a photographer for many years, even a professional for most of that time, before I discovered who I am as a photographer. When I was photographing for clients I was usually working on some kind of project and toward a specific purpose. I often found that work satisfying, although I did not at the time understand why. When photographing for myself I sought to make pleasing pictures, but more or less at random.

Short's Mill, near Clarkesville, Georgia

It was while working on a project -- photographs for the book Rock City Barns: A Passing Era -- in the mid-'90s that I began to find a sense of who I am as a photographer. I think of it as "finding my voice." After the book came out it attracted some attention in the art photography community and I received a letter from a well-known art photographer who urged me to create an artist's statement, defining myself and my work. I thought about it, and this is what I came up with:

Manning Brothers Service Station, Glynn County, Georgia

"My domain is the old, the odd, and the ordinary; the beautiful, the abandoned, and the about to vanish away. I am a visual historian of an earlier America and a recorder of the interface between man and nature; a keeper of vanishing ways of life."

Susie's Sunset Cafe, LaFayette, Georgia

 While traveling to make the photographs for the Rock City Barn book, I began collecting pictures of other subjects that interested me, and now one of those "collections" is almost ready to become a book: Found on Road Dead: An Anthology of Abandoned Automobiles.

Since that time, I've been accumulating photographs for various projects in keeping with my statement of purpose. Photography is now complete for Lost Barns of Rock City -- a book of barns that were lost from Rock City's records and which I discovered on my various travels or in response to tips from people who knew of barns that were not in the first book. Other book projects in various stages of development include Old Houses of Georgia, People of Georgia, Tennessee: A Backroads Portrait, and Israel Today: The Land and the People. 

Danny Gandy and friend, Dooly County, Georgia. "This is not a fighting cock!"

Does all that sound ambitious? Of course it is! Will some (any) of these books see publication? Possibly. Georgia: A Backroads Portrait is complete and is making the rounds of publishers. And Countryman Press, which rejected Backroads Portrait because they no longer do coffee-table books, nevertheless assigned me to create a book in a different format, Backroads and Byways of Georgia, which was released in 2017.
Boynton Beauty Salon, Catoosa County, Georgia

Meantime, I don't have to worry about photo-malaise. I only have to worry about finding time and money (for travel) to work on my various projects. I am 82, in reasonable health, and have a reason to get up every morning. I will continue to pursue my photo-projects as long as I can.

Find yourself a project. Or several. Breath new life into your photography. The world is full of opportunities.

Bottoms Up! Berry College campus, Floyd County, Georgia

By the way, this is exactly the approach recommended by Magnum photographer David Hurn in his great little book On Being a Photographer (written with Bill Jay).

Check out Georgia: A Backroads Portrait at

And if you should happen to have a friend in the publishing business . . .

(This post previously appeared in the Dear Susan blog on January 10, 2020)


  1. These are terrific. Makes me want to visit Georgia!

  2. Thanks, Jim. As I've said before, you are the man to do the "Backroads and Byways of Indiana" book.

  3. Excellent words here, Dave. When I left the newspaper business after a decade (a late in life career change) in 2008, I found I needed some thoughts as to an "end product" for my creative work. Like you I am now retired and living in Carrollton, GA, since 2012 and seeking to work themes to define this little town. In today's entry, I instantly recognized the Fayette County courthouse as I had an image I took of that structure once used on a local Fayette County phone book back in the 1990's (I think). But, again, thanks for the words for finding purpose to one's creative outlet as more than just making pretty pictures.

  4. Thanks, Seagrove. That's a worthy project. I wish I had started a documentation of the area where I live when I first moved here 32 years ago. I will be writing more on this theme of projects from time to time.