Last month I did a couple of posts on The Little Game – which is a method of refocusing your practice if you feel it needs tightening up a bit. I got it from The Online Photographer (for links to the actual TOP posts see April and May’s posts). The idea was to categorise your back catalogue into the 25 most frequently occurring categories, including overlaps if necessary. Then you prioritised them from 1-25. You then take the top five and concentrate on them to the exclusion of everything else. I had a go myself because I felt my practice had started to drift a bit and I needed a new direction.
I found I could easily get over 25 categories and so had to discipline myself to stick to that. I didn’t prioritise them all because lower down the order there was no particular priority. The top five then turned out to be:
1. Cityscape. This isn’t street photography. It’s more to do with the shapes of a city and its inhabitants and how they interact. How our buildings shape us. Here’s one that popped in front of my lens recently.
2. People In Situ. Okay, everyone’s in situ in a sense but it was meant to suggest people, well, doing stuff: working, playing, walking, talking and so on. I guess it’s a kind of mirror image of the first category. People in places rather than places round people.
3. Form. Just that. A few years ago I read On Growth And Form by D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson. Okay, I didn’t actually read it - because it is almost unreadable – but I browsed it and tried to absorb it. It concerns itself with the question of why the world takes the form that it does and was huge in its day (published 1917). Photographically it gave rise to the series I now call The Decline Of Magic (which you can see on the Photographs page of this website) and also this kind of thing:
4. Spirit. Broadly speaking this would be all acknowledgement of the ineffable. It could be standard religious or it could be artistic or plain humanist. Something like this maybe.
5. Black and White. It isn’t a subject but it is a category. I’ve flip flopped between colour and b and w for ages so I want to stick with the latter for a while.
Of the categories, obviously twenty aren’t going to make it. These are the ‘meh’ ones, maybe. Some of those that didn’t make my own personal cut were: abstraction; shadows; pattern; faces; Manchester; square (format); and so on.
Good exercise or useless? I think this might be a question of how you approach it. As a general rule in life I like to have a direction but I’m not so keen on goals. Sticking to roughly the same route and seeing what comes up has always seemed more interesting than fixating on outcomes. So the five above represent a direction for me and not a set of rules. That seems to be within the spirit of the exercise.
The overlap of categories can confuse things too. What if I see, for example, a great urban landscape with strong patterning? Is it excluded on the grounds of pattern or included on the grounds of cityscape? Well, these are only guidelines. In the end you have to rely on your instinct and not reasoning.
It is a few weeks since I came up with these categories and already they are shaping my eye. How? That is probably for future blog posts but (at last) I feel that I now have a bit of a structure to hang things off.
If you tried it, I hope it bore fruit for you, as well. I’m sure it’s applicable in many other areas of endeavour. I go back to that passage in Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance that I mentioned in May’s post on this theme. We can be paralysed by choice.