How to Start a Project: Tim Davis

©Tim Davis, Searchlights, from the series "Illilluminations"

During the last year, we published a dozen short essays from photographers to the basic question, "What advice do you have for starting a project?"

The series featured replies from Judith Joy RossIrina RozovskyAlejandro CartagenaPhil ToledanoSteven AhlgrenSusan LipperAmani WillettLisa KeresziEirik JohnsonRichard Renaldi, Brian Ulrich and Mark Steinmetz.

Originally the idea was to finish with a dozen, but today we publish a 13th and final response from Tim Davis.

We will soon begin a follow-up series of posts of advice from photographers on how to develop a project asking them how they approach the middle ground of their projects, after giving basic definition and before taking steps to finish.

Here's a seeming contradiction. I think of myself as a conceptual artist. I almost never think of an idea before I begin making it. CONCEPTUAL must mean thought of in advance, musn't it? Well I am interested in what I call THINKING IN THE FIELD. This a descriptor of the process of seeing first and then conceiving. Almost all of my projects have begun with things I saw, noted or photographed, and then put aside. But they began with a visual experience. Later (minutes or months) I'll make something else that aligns gravitationally with the first image—like electrons peeling off the outer valences of an atom—and I'll know I have an idea.

This idea often then has a few main components:
1. It is possible. I prefer projects that are possible to do, to get to, to get access to.
2. I can imagine spending most of my time in pursuit of said idea.
3. The project is somehow both critical and celebratory of the culture it comes from.
4. I can visualize what the work will look like.

And when I know it's right, it's as if a door opens in a wall where there wasn't one before. I can go to the door and open it and look through at an expansive plain of possibilities.

Now, I am also a compulsive project-attempter. I have dozens of nearly or entirely complete projects that will never show until I'm dead. I just truffle hound my way through multi-year-long projects that just don't end up working.

If you're timid about starting a project and don't like to fail at something you've spent time, money, energy, social (or marital) capital on, I recommend auto mechanics.

- Tim Davis

© Tim Davis, Foot, from the series "The New Antiquity"