One of the issues of working as a commissioned photographer that is least conducive to understanding your own images is the need to deliver work quickly. The client demand for photographs to be delivered on a deadline denies the opportunity to spend time with the work making judgements slowly based upon reflection and analysis. The quick edit requires experience, an understanding of the clients expectations and a well informed gut reaction. Difficult skills to master. However, such a process can lead to less obvious images being dismissed.
Looking back on work in your archive with the benefit of passing time can reveal lost gems and new understandings of your approach to making images. Life and times inform the images we make and the greater the expanse of time that has passed, the more we have changed as people and photographers. Returning to work often encourages a reassessment of an initial edit and the creation of a new one, but that new edit should not always be seen as a more successful selection, only as a different one.
The review of images on contact sheets makes this process easier. A loupe, a chinagraph and a good eye are all that is needed to reassess work. Digital work I find more difficult to reassess without printing and removing the restrictions of on-screen editing. The printed artefact certainly helps with achieving a sense of distance when reviewing a collection of images.
Placing the physical process of editing images to one side for the moment I have found that time has given me one specific quality that of confidence. Confidence to choose images that are less obvious and perhaps more challenging. Of course an edit removed from client expectations always has more space to flex the creative muscles, but when sending work to clients I always follow the same formula. One for the client, one for the art director and one for me! The client choice is the safe one, the art director choice will push the possibilities a little further and the one for me is the one that really sums up my experience of the moment. Occasionally, the art director frame or mine gets published, but unsurprisingly the editor’s choice is most often chosen.
I should say that my editing process is simple. One folder for RAWS, one folder for JPEGS, one for the first edit and another for the final edit, with the last folder containing the supplied TIFF files.
The long form edit rarely leaves me with a feeling that the editor’s choice was the wrong one, however it does make me reconsider my other two options. Did I challenge the art director enough and was my choice too subjective lacking objectivity? The objectivity that time and distance give.
I once spoke with the photographer Steve Pyke www.pyke-eye.com who at the time only shot analogue images (I am not sure if that is still the case), whilst others had embraced digital technology. Steve is a highly regarded photographer who can set his own agenda as to how he works and so I asked him what happened if a client needed an image from him urgently. They can wait he said, I need to process, contact and print the image, but most importantly I need to live with the image for a while before I know which one I want to send. There are few photographers who can adopt that approach, but I understand his thought process.
On quiet days there are few things more nostalgic or rewarding than rediscovering forgotten images, whilst reviewing our archives. I often state that photography is history and our archives are our own creative histories. They show how the way we see has changed and how our ways of working have evolved. Returning to those images can inform our present work by reminding us of good practices that we may have forgotten and reignite past enthusiasm.
There is no downside to the long form edit, taking time in the edit and returning to the edit. The edit is a process that needs to be respected; remember that you are never judged on the photographs you make, only on what you show and it is the edit that defines that situation.
Dr. Grant Scott is the founder/curator of United Nations of Photography, a Senior Lecturer and Subject Co-ordinator: Photography at Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, a working photographer, documentary filmmaker, BBC Radio contributor and the author of Professional Photography: The New Global Landscape Explained (Routledge 2014), The Essential Student Guide to Professional Photography (Routledge 2015), New Ways of Seeing: The Democratic Language of Photography (Routledge 2019). His film Do Not Bend: The Photographic Life of Bill Jay was first screened in 2018 www.donotbendfilm.com. He is the presenter of the A Photographic Life and In Search of Bill Jay podcasts.
© Grant Scott 2022