I am not so much a snapshot person. Sure, I take them: of friends having fun, of pretty landscapes and strange signs. But what I really like are concepts. I like big, unwieldy ones that I have to wrestle under control before a single frame can be shot, and I like small ones, six-shots-and-under deals in which everything I want to say can be communicated in a handful of images and shot over a single weekend.
Shooting a series is one of my favourite things to do. I love thinking about it, strategizing, collecting the props and costumes and deciding which camera and film to shoot. Sometimes, the series are ongoing and the concept broad, like “portraits” or “prairie.” But on most occasions, the ideas are contained and specific, like the ones I’ve done of children in animal masks, the creepy “Ladies of the Balaclava” or the “miniatures” series of surreal photographs featuring tiny Schleich toy animals set against sixties and seventies backdrops.
Once I get an idea for a series in my head, there’s no letting go until it’s been executed. And while I can see the shots so clearly in my head, they always end up different than I had first pictured. I’ve learned that even though you plan something, there will always be surprises and that there is always room for spontaneity. I’ve also learned that not every series works or that something I thought would yield at least 12 images, bores me after six. Series, I’ve found, are the catalyst for all sorts of unexpected lessons.
Ideas can come from anywhere: a word, a prop, a person, a dream. There’s always a story, and as the cliché goes, everyone has one, even if it’s nonsensical and only in your head. The greatest challenge of a series is communicating that story without words and the payoff is not any recognition that may come, but the feeling of accomplishment when you see the individual shots that make up your series printed and lined up in a row.
Taking on a series is a great next-step for shooters who are tired of the same-old, same-old and want to step up their game, jump-start their imagination and focus on the fun that creating a cohesive set of images can be. Rather than limiting your vision, the personal parameters you set for your series can be strangely liberating, often pushing your eye out of its comfort zone and prompting all kinds of creative flow.
If a single picture is worth a thousand words, just imagine what four or six or ten images might yield.
Have you shot a series or are planning one? Share your shots and stories with me!
Pamela Klaffke is a former newspaper and magazine journalist who now works as a novelist and photographer. Her column appears weekly in the Analogue Lifestyle section of Lomography Magazine.