The idea of project work has become very popular in some photography circles in the past fifteen years or so and, although I think projects can help us focus on completing our tasks, I also become concerned when we become conditioned so that we can only take pictures while working on a project, or of subjects within our projects. Sometimes the idea of projects can lead to us having tunnel vision and overlooking other pictures, deadening our artistic sensitivity to the world around us.
I enjoy this story told, told about 18 minutes into the video, by John Sexton of how he and Brett Weston were on their way to Point Lobos and Weston stopped the car to take a picture of trash bags (!). As Sexton put it, he realized that photography didn't begin at Lobos, but much earlier.
Similarly, Joel Meyerowitz in this youtube video talks of going out and finding inspiration on the street instead "going to Yosemite" (in an apparent swipe at Ansel Adams). Great photographs don't just appear in our projects but in the world around us, and I know someone is taking their project work too seriously when projects are the only things that they can shoot.
The photograph at the top of this post is one I took while in San Francisco working on a project documenting California's Vietnam War Memorials. A vender had set up a tent in front of the memorial I wanted to photograph and was selling kitsch, blocking the picture I wanted to make (I later realized that the vendor blocking the memorial was exactly the picture I needed to make, something I came back later and documented). Because I couldn't take the image my project needed, I looked around for something else.
Wandering around the area I found and photographed these two heads. Then I photographed some graffiti on the back of one of the heads. While taking the second picture, a family of tourists stopped and shrugged when they realized I was photographing graffiti. Then they stood in front of the heads, took the obligatory tourist picture, and went on their way, no doubt with stories of the crazy graffiti shooting California photographer to take home with their friends.
I never would have found this image if I had been too focused on my project work.