Do you go back? Do you delve into past work? Either from a few months ago or farther back in time, maybe in years?
Let me tell what I do that's not all that good. I go on a big trip to photograph somewhere. If you know me at all you know I work every day. I get up with charged batteries (figuratively but also factually) and formatted cards. Off I go on the day's shoot. Each night I go over the files on a laptop, perform a very rough edit, back up the RAWS on a separate hard drive, format the card and charge the battery to start the next day ready to go.
When I come back from the trip I download the files and begin to look at them. I decide which ones I will print, usually in series, and I begin the work. After a month or two I have several bodies of work that are complete. I show the work around to colleagues, friends and to Susan Nalband at 555 Gallery where I exhibit my work, and then move on to the next project. Done.
Not so fast. Are what I have worked with the definitive photographs from what I shot? Have I made the best choices? Have I missed something? Very possibly. And what if I've moved on to new projects, new things I am shooting that I am excited by and that I want to see as prints?
If you are always moving on to the next project are you leaving work behind that has real merit or significance? Is it possible that the way you printed them or showed them is not allowing the work to exist at its best, or perhaps in some way that brings new insight into the work that you hadn't dealt with the first time around?
Does any of this matter? To wonder whether or not you've made good work you haven't brought front and center? Truthfully, probably not. In the realm of things going on in the world like disasters, wars, senseless killings, poverty, rampant injustice and inequality, your and my pictures most likely are not a ripple on the ocean of everything. It only really matters if it matters to you. The way I play this is to work to remember what I was thinking as I made the pictures. As I stood there in front of something and worked with it. Thinking of the potential of this, or the sequencing of that. Thinking of how the prints would look like this or this. Trying to figure out how to make sense of the work. Was I shooting it all, did I get everything I needed? To remember the level of commitment to the work as I made it. If I can do that and it was high then it is a no brainer. I will print the work.
So at this stage in my career one of my primary concerns is not to fuck it up. Inspiration's easy for it flows like a tap with no on or off. Seriously, give me a blank room, four walls a ceiling and a floor, and I'll do something with it. But I am perfectly capable of being somewhere amazing and missing something or shooting something wrong just a little to make for a disaster when back home.
At any rate, pay a little respect to past work not realized. Make the effort on that cold winter night when the wind is howling and the temperature's in the single numbers outside and you can't go shooting. Go back to that day last summer when the air was like honey on your face and you came across that place that was magic, you knew it was. It is so rare that all is right. Perfect light, angle, perspective and your ability to work with it. You worked around it and with it like a dancer, at one with what it was and your growing perception of it. You knew it was good and you were on. Let that work come out. Share that work with us.
From Italy, Trees, 2012
There is a tendency, of course, to think that much old work isn't as good as what you shot today. Not true. Harry Callahan, one of my teachers, had a nice way of quashing that one. He said that he thought we really made the same picture all the time or that we really only made one picture through all our work. He prescribed equal weight to early work made when he didn't know much and to work made late in his career when he'd made countless really important photographs.