How to Start a Project: Irina Rozovsky

© Irina Rozovsky, from the series One to Nothing

Two years ago, as my students at the Universidad de Antioquia were beginning to start their final projects for the semester,  I asked a handful of friends in the photography world if they had advice about starting projects for my students. I continue to present their responses to my students each semester.

It occurred to me that their collective advice would probably be of interest generally. With that idea, I will be publishing some of the responses I received as well as soliciting new responses in order to publish a series of a dozen replies to the basic question, "What advice do you have for starting a project?"

We started the series with a reply from Judith Joy Ross. We're following today with another from Irina Rozovsky.

Rozovsky was born in Moscow and grew up in the Boston area. She received a BA in French and Spanish Literature from Tufts University and an MFA in Photography from Massachusetts College of Art and Design. Her work has been published and exhibited in the United States and abroad. She lives in Brooklyn, NY and teaches at the International Center of Photography.

Irina Rozovsky: Often photography students, especially the ones who are more cerebral than visual, set out to construct a project around an ambitious, complex, weighty idea. It might be quite interesting to talk about but when it comes to pictures, we've got little to look at - unfortunately good ideas are rarely photogenic.  I am weary when students have it figured out before they've started making the photos. Or when the analysis of a photograph doesn't match what is before our eyes. The proof is in the pudding. Of course I accept that photography allows infinite permutations, so if this is indeed how you work and it's been fruitful, keep at it - there are so many fantastic, inspiring examples of people who do it well.

For me, it usually starts with looking and wanting more of where that came from. I keep track of mental images, the kind the brain makes independently when there's no camera around. When I was a kid my mom taught me to make mental pictures and after all the rolls of film I've gone through, the mental photos still endure as a kind of living, invisible sketchpad. Many times before going to bed I run through all the things I saw but didn't photograph. So when I actually pick up my camera, the real pictures are rooted in a kind of abstract place, like a distilled fantasy. That's what forms the base of my way of working and the rest is details and the constantly tested ability to react to the particulars, decided by geography, subjects, ideas - all followed by endless hours of editing, sequencing, shuffling and reshuffling.

My advice is easier said than done, but do follow the image, listen to your eyes, stay open to your instincts and use the camera as a way to get close to something that speaks to you in a visual way.

© Irina Rozovsky, from the series One to Nothing