© JOHN FERGUSON
The Forgotten Cowboys.
The overall importance of personal projects ranges from creative freedom to creating new work. Whether you are an established photographer or filmmaker or transitioning from assistant photographer /filmmaker this is an opportunity to produce something that has no boundaries.
As a creative consultant and photo editor, I review photographer's and filmmaker's work daily at Agency Access. I always get excited when someone has created a self-assigned personal project!! As a former photo editor working in the magazine world, I always dove right into the personal project featured on a photographer’s Web site. Their personal projects allowed me to see how the photographer's thought process worked and how they took a project from beginning to end. It also allowed me to see a bit of their personality injected in their work and, perhaps, inspired me to want to work with them.
Editorial and commercial Los Angeles-based photographer Stephanie Diani’s personal project is a wonderful example of how she planned a project with relatively low overhead. "Dames: The Legends of Burlesque” is an ongoing series featuring women who have been performing burlesque for years and in most cases, decades.
"I researched some of the dancers online and emailed people explaining my project and asking for suggestions and found the first few ladies locally. They suggested other women, and so on. I was able to keep costs relatively low – at least so far – because a lot of the women were within driving distance of LA. And the others I photographed at an event in Vegas over a weekend,” says Diani."
The photos have gotten a great response and have been exhibited, somewhat randomly, at the Leedy-Voulkos Arts Center in Kansas City, MO, in Getxo, Spain at GETXOPHOTO in 2010 and were on view last month at the Centro Cultural de Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú in Lima with the GETXOPHOTO show.
Dames: The Legends of Burlesque/ © Stephanie Diani
Director/ Executive Creative Director&Partner of Stardust, filmmaker Seth Epstein was open and very candid when he shared the backstory to his personal work. The Stussy film is a perfect example. "I shot that because I wanted to and in fact, at that time, I did not have anything really new since I had moved away from filmmaking,” says Epstein. I also think doing personal work is about experimenting - because how can you bring new ideas or techniques to the table if you don't experiment. Epstein’s film shows you can shoot in a certain, informal way and get results that people like and want to share. That film led to working with Seavees Summer on Vimeo, which lead to working with Deckers and Ahnu footwear for Epstein's The Hiker. The Hiker film would never have happened if Epstein had not done "Stussy." The learning experiences he got from Stussy and subsequent films lead to the Ahnu Hiker film.
The Hiker for Deckers- Ahnu footwear/ © Seth Epstein
And yes, it definitely costs money to produce personal projects.
I was fortunate to get acquainted with UK-based editorial and commercial environmental portrait photographer John Ferguson, www.societalphotography.com. He has been working on a personal project for the past several years, titled The Forgotten Cowboys. This particular story is about black cowboys in the American West and illustrates how personal projects can really pick up momentum. This self-created project was picked up by The London Sunday Times. They used Ferguson’s pictures to illustrate an article about contemporary black Cowboys at rodeos, their followings and their working lives.
"My project is indeed a personal one, which has gained an amazing response from both sides of the Atlantic. So much so that I've now got an IT expert and a Professor of African American studies both volunteering their time to help with the project in the U.S. Because of all the inquiries from the UK and the U.S, we've built a stand-a-lone Web site just for the project,” says Ferguson. He is also producing a full-length documentary and once filming is done, he is looking to exhibit in the U.S., the UK, Holland and even South Korea.
The Forgotten Cowboys has taken up a tremendous amount of personal time and expense and these are things that always need to be factored in when starting out on a major personal project. But all the positive response from interested parties and individuals has been extremely worthwhile and has helped Ferguson to move on to more challenging steps. You can see more here about the project here and a gallery of images on Behance.net.
And to close with a great quote from John Ferguson's Forgotten Cowboys Web site, “Everybody has a story to tell." I challenge you creatives "What's your story to tell?"
Andrea Maurio, Creative Consultant / Photo Editor