In my Wind power opening, I said this was not to be a ‘project’, but that I understood it as being something more akin to a ‘book’. Rob Hudson picked up on that in his comment and asked why I did not want to use the term ‘project’.
For me, this is really very simple. It is, as Rob suggests, something to do with nuance of language, though perhaps not necessarily in the way he meant it. For me, it is about a way of thinking about what I am doing. Let me take a step back from the wind farms…
When I was engaged in working on the What Lies Beneath series from autumn 2011-autumn 2012, I treated it as a coherent body of work that started with a particular image and ended with another. I had made photographs before this that could, from the point of view of the subject matter (water and what is beneath the surface of the water), be included in the series, but they were not made with the intention of exploring the issues that the series was seeking to explore, and so it did not feel ‘right’ to include these images. I was trying to use the creation of photographs to explore a particular theme. In that sense, What Lies Beneath was a project, something limited in scope and intent.
Perhaps it is helpful to think about this in another way. Although I have not completed any kind of photography degree (though I’d love to do so!), it seems to me that ‘projects’ are almost a clichéd part of such programmes of study. The term points to the time-limited and carefully circumscribed nature of what is being done, with the aim of eliciting a certain kind of response or engagement, particularly one that can be assessed in some way (I recognise this pattern from my own work as an academic in a different field!). That is fine for certain contexts, such as university work that needs to be assessed, or something like What Lies Beneath, or another mini-project of three images called Love Me As I Am that I am intending to create soon about a personal story – but it is not the right term or context for all collections of images.
So with Wind power, I am looking at something much more expansive. I have already used images going back several years in the first ‘chapters’ – and I have a number of even older images that I want to use, some from about 20 years ago. Although I had obviously not thought about working on a photographic exploration of wind farms 20 years ago, I was photographing wind turbines 20 years ago, and so these machines have clearly been a source of fascination for me for a considerable time.
That is why thinking about a ‘book’ makes more sense to me for the wind farm subject. Writing a book involves drawing in all kinds of material from all places and times, in order to communicate (what will hopefully be!) a coherent narrative: a narrative that is meant to address a particular concern or theme. In a novel or a poem, for example, this might be about addressing elemental issues around the human condition, expressed through the lives and experiences of characters. In an academic context, we might find similar themes, addressed in terms of reflections upon other texts (understood as broadly as possible). In auto-biographical contexts, the author reflects upon their own life and seeks to offer some insight that might be of interest to the reader. And so on – in all cases, authors draw on a vast range of sources and nothing is really out of bounds. In my own academic work, on European missionaries in the 19th and 20th century Middle East, I have drawn upon sources such as letters, committee minutes, and diaries, and anything and everything that seemed appropriate beyond that: other academic studies (of course), but also poems, novels, hymns, photographs, drawings, film footage, interviews with descendants…
And that is how I envisage Wind power going: I want to draw on all kinds of sources, whether these be ‘historical’ photographs that I have taken, scientific data – which I will hopefully get at least broadly right, drawing on friends like Mike Colechin for help (he’s an engineer when not out playing with a camera!) – literary texts, interviews and more. No doubt there will be sources that I cannot envisage or imagine at this stage: that happens in my academic work, and I see no reason why it should not happen here.
All of that is so much broader than a ‘project’ – in fact, it’s more like a… book!
P.S. And here there is a little bit more water, and stones under the water… but it is clearly not a part of What Lies Beneath! 😉 No, it’s just a rather pretty image I made when out with Mike Colechin in April, with nicely muted spring colours that the Fuji Provia 100F has captured rather well (I’ve made no adjustments to the scan). This is one of the images I was referring to a few days ago in a tweet, expressing delight at the wonders of large format photography.