How to Develop a Project: Jackie Nickerson

© Jackie Nickerson, Innocent, 2013, from the series "Terrain"

During the last year, we published thirteen 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 RenaldiBrian UlrichMark Steinmetz and Tim Davis.

We subsequently began 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.

We started with responses from Elinor Carucci and Michael Itkoff. Today we continue with a response from Jackie Nickerson.

Jackie Nickerson was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1960. Her work has been exhibited internationally including at the Museum of Modern Art, Salzburg; Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels; National Portrait Gallery, London; Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin; and the Hereford Museum, UK.

Her work is held in many collections including the Museum of Modern Art, NY; Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin; Vatican Museums, Rome; and the National Gallery of Ireland.

In 2008 she was the winner of the AIB prize and has been short listed for the Deutscher Fotobuchpreis award (2008) and the John Kobal Prize (2003). In 2007 she was selected to be part of Le Mois de la Photo in Paris showing at the Centre Culturel Irlandais. She is the recipient of a Culture Ireland award and three Visual Art Bursaries from the Irish Arts Council.

She is represented by Jack Shainman Gallery in New York.

I suppose the first question is - what do you want to get out of producing a series of photographs? Does it have an end use? Does it have to speak to a certain audience? Do you have a political message you want to get across? Do you have a personal belief or experience you want to share? I think having an idea of why you want to produce a series of photographs is a useful question. It can centre your focus and help to develop the overall concept of the work.

When I get an idea for a project, I like to do a lot of research before I start to shoot any photos. In reality, I think my interest in a subject comes first and then I have to figure out if it’s something that can translate into an image. Then it’s a challenge because I want to push the boundaries of what kind of photographs I can make and continue to discover more ways of seeing. In a way, you are developing yourself.

Everyone gets stuck at a certain point in his or her work. The point is not to give up but to try to figure out why you’re not happy with your pictures. A useful thing to do is to print postcard size prints of all the images from your project, put them on a wall, and live with them for a few weeks. Engage with them occasionally, figure out which images speak to you and why. In the meantime, go to the places where you’ve made the photographs, without your camera, and just sit and observe. If you’re doing portraiture, for example in a nursing home, volunteer to work for a few days and just try to engage with the subject on a very human level. Then your personal experience will help you to see new things.

- Jackie Nickerson