There has been a lot written about self-assignments and I figured I’d throw my take on the issue into the mix. To often I see a self-assignment that involves technical issues, the idea of only using one lens or f-stop or something that has to do with the technique of making an image. This is great for learning the gear but it won’t make better photographs from a vision point of view. Technique is fine but isn’t a substitute for something to say. I am as guilty as the next guy for making a technically good image that isn’t something that you really want to go back and look at twice. One of my mentors in sculpture Gerry Conaway once told me that “Great art was art you saw something new in every-time you looked at it“. For what it’s worth, I believe these should be words to live by–if you want your work to mean something and stand the test of time.

So for a self-assignment I have reached back into something I used to do in the old film days when I was broke and a student. I take an old “not so worth keeping” slide (I’m pretty sure most of us have a few) and cut out the film then slip it into my wallet. When I see something that may make a decent image, I take out the slide and frame the image. Then once I have an idea of what I am trying to say, I think through the technical such as depth of field, exposure, etc. The point is to see the image without all the technical stuff getting in the way.

 The most well-lit, perfectly exposed image can also be the most boring thing I have ever done if all it has to go on is the technique that was used to make the image. “Less gear!” is the rally cry that seems to be gaining momentum and I think it should be “Right gear for your voice! I don’t think they built the Taj Mahal with using just a hammer. Gear gets in the way too often I will agree, but using the right tool for the job is also what good craftsmanship is about. So I say learn your craft and gear, but first develop the eye and vision then buy the tools to make telling that story in the best way possible. Don’t let gear drive the vision; let vision drive the gear. Using  a piece of paper cut out for your aspect ratio or an old slide to see through, then using your arm as a focal length will cut down on gear for learning. Using your mind and imagination to build the image before you ever take the camera along will, in my mind, make you able to see better.

Give it a try. It only takes up a little space in your wallet and it’s always with you. Besides it isn’t as noticeable as a camera and will get you plenty of space in the coffee shop if it is noticed.

There will be more on this if I can ever get the ringing in my ears to stop from all the head banging. Make new mistakes today; it is a sign of progress.