Working on an image by image basis is what most of us do. Indeed, I think any other way is hardly ever considered. We tend to think of images as stories in their own right, and collections of our work tend to be location based : 20 images from Iceland, 34 images from China, etc, etc.
I’ve been more interested in the sum of the parts of a collection of work, than in individual images for a while now. I think I can find more about who I am as a photographer, when I put sets of images together.
I find several benefits of working on portfolios, or collections:
By placing the images side by side, I find that the edits of one image inform another.
Some images push others further on in their development. I realise that some images are under-produced and need further work to bring them up to the same level as others.
I see my style of photography become more evident through this process.
Point 3 is the most important for me.
Most workshop participants who are wondering if they have a style often say something along the lines of ‘I don’t know if I have a style’. I know I have a style in my work, because I have found portfolio development instrumental into forcing me to see where the relationships and themes are in what I do.
There is an underlying story to our work. It’s sitting there in plain sight of us, but it just needs us to look at our work in a different way. Rather than working on images on an image by image basis, I’d recommend trying to find collections that sit together well. They tend to inform me about where my recurring themes are, what I tend to do a lot of, and how I use tone and form. Portfolios are teachers. It just takes us a little effort to put together work in such a way where it flows. We can learn so much about who we are as creative artists, and where our strengths and weaknesses are.
Uncovering the story of my work has been hugely instrumental in pushing my own development forward. Few of us enquire, reflect upon our work in a collective way. We tend to look at images one at a time, and to me, this is like looking at single words at a time. By putting the work together we form paragraphs and by collecting portfolios we put chapters together. This form of assemblage, after some time, begins to write a story of who we are and what we’re trying to say with our photographs.