How to Start a Project: Amani Willett

© Amani Willet, from the series "Disquiet" 

Two years ago, 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 students each semester.

It occurred to me that their collective advice would probably be of interest to others and under that idea I will be publishing some of the responses I received then as well as soliciting new responses to post a series of a dozen replies from photographers to the basic question, "What advice do you have for starting a project?"

We started the series with replies from Judith Joy RossIrina RozovskyAlejandro CartagenaPhil Toledano, Steven Ahlgren, and Susan Lipper. Today we continue with Amani Willett.

Amani Willett's first monograph Disquiet has just been published by Damiani. His photographs have also been included in the books Street Photography Now and New York: In ColorHis work has been exhibited both nationally and internationally. He was interviewed in January 2011 on fototazo here. He is a long-standing member of the iN-PUBLiC collective of street photographers.

Given my "projects started" to "projects completed" ratio, feel free to take my advice with a grain of salt; but over the years this is the approach that I've found to work best. Projects are often easy to start and hard to finish. In fact, I have a collection in Lightroom called "New Projects" with a list of roughly 60 or 70 projects that I’ve started or have thought about pursuing. Many of the folders inside "New Projects" have 1 or no images inside.

Two things I've learned very slowly over time are that what I like to think about cerebrally does not necessarily interest me photographically and that even though most of my ideas never go anywhere, they are an important part of the critical process of engaging the world and understating how to locate myself in the world.

As I'm working through the process of solidifying a project there are a number of ways I progress. It sounds simplistic, but I make sure to focus on ideas that I'm truly and unwaveringly passionate about. There will be many times when trying to work out an idea that I want to quit, to give up . . . and I usually do if I'm not working on something that truly fascinates me. I have to "need" to make the work, not simply "want" to. I try to be realistic about what kind of project complements my working style. The worst thing would be to set up artistic and creative limitations early in the process that suffocate the creative process. That is to say, I don't work on a project just for the sake of it if it isn't the way I want to be working.

My advice would be to find a form that works for you and your voice – one that enhances your work. Maybe a traditional photo series with 20 similar images suffocates your work but the book form or an installation would enhance its meaning and effectiveness.

In the last number of years the idea of the project has been liberated. It is now much more acceptable to approach an idea from multiple angles, using a variety of media and voices. Try to explore as many ideas as you have before committing to a final structure and be open to new possibilities along the way. With the best projects, you usually end up in a place you could never have imagined.

And somewhere in the process, try and have some fun!

- Amani Willett