How to Develop a Project: Laura El-Tantawy

© Laura El-Tantawy, from the series "In the Shadow of the Pyramids"

In 2012 and 2013 fototazo 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,  Tim Davis and Nicholas Nixon.

We continue with a follow-up series 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.

The first responses came from Elinor CarucciMichael ItkoffJackie NickersonAlessandra Sanguinetti and Chris Verene. Today we continue the series with a response from Laura El-Tantawy.

Projects are a way for me to express an opinion and a point of view.

I do not believe in neutrality.

When it comes to photography, I believe in the intersection of feeling and seeing – maybe even more in feeling than seeing.

When I feel, I know this is a body of work I need to pursue.

It's important for me that every project uses a visual language/format that is most suitable to tell that particular story. All stages from picture taking to printing and how it ends (book, prints, show, or on my website). I must give the work closure otherwise it feels incomplete.

© Laura El-Tantawy, from the series "In the Shadow of the Pyramids"

My projects will often not have the same visual approach, but I think there is a general thread that ties all my work together. Maybe it is the fact that I usually draw from personal experience or memory or simply the visual style itself.

The most important steps in the life of a project, in my opinion, are the beginning and the end. The beginning can be so difficult and sometimes if you never take that first step, the project remains an idea and goes no further. It's important to take that first plunge. The middle part very much hinges on the start and end of the work: what you set out to say and how. My long-term body of work "In the Shadow of the Pyramids" became tricky because the story kept changing. It was only because I knew what I set out to say, that I was able to maintain a sense of clarity and ability to continue to focus on what I wanted to capture in spite of the events/story constantly and rapidly changing. Whenever I was loosing focus, I always asked myself, "Why am I doing this?" and "What am I trying to say?" Those are two critical questions to constantly ask as the work progresses, especially if it becomes complicated and multilayered. 

I believe in being experimental – trying and accepting the fact that I can fail. I don't think I would ever do something if I knew it would succeed 100 percent. I need to be challenged, both by the idea itself and figuring out how I am going to resolve it visually.