How to Develop a Project: Rory Mulligan

© Rory Mulligan

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 in this new series came from Elinor CarucciMichael ItkoffJackie NickersonAlessandra SanguinettiChris Verene, and Laura El-Tantawy. Today we continue with Rory Mulligan.

Rory Mulligan lives in Hastings-on-Hudson, NY where he is currently attempting to complete a project.

© Rory Mulligan

Remain open. It is imperative for an artist to remain willing to change her ideas or approaches, whether within a singular piece, project or entire practice. Be willing to expand or contract your idea. Sometimes one may have a grand vision for a project only to discover that the work can be completed in a succinct, truncated manner. The opposite can also be true: what seemed limited can suddenly turn into a mad rush of energy and ideas. Go with it.  

Look back and know your history. Chances are your project is not the first of its kind. What are your influences? What are the shortcomings of the work that has triggered your thinking? How is your work pushing these ideas forward?  What are some of the ideas or histories related to your project outside of art? Research not only strengthens the work, but also helps generate new ideas and create connections you may have been trying to make.  

Keep a pen and paper with you. When you go out to shoot and by your bedside. Some of my best ideas have come to me in the middle of the night. Sometimes two words are all I need to record an otherwise fleeting thought. Fishhook chair. Milk rope. Violent eyes. Sometimes a rough sketch of an image will suffice. 

Edit and reshoot. Start editing to mold the direction of your project. Listen to the work. Perhaps the strongest photographs are about something slightly different than your initial idea. Reread the first paragraph. Maybe the gesture wasn’t quite right in a photograph that is about the arch of a limb. Do it again. 

Insert an unexpected variation. Think about how a single idea within your larger project can quite literally look different from the other parts or sections. Read Donald Barthelme’s “Concerning the Bodyguard” and consider his use of the interrogative in a declarative medium. Can a story be told only through questions? Does every section of your project need to repeat the same visual formula?

Be careful about sharing. In the age of perpetual sharing and self-promotion, keep your personal work and ideas to yourself until they are complete. When your project isn’t too nascent to withstand a blow, turn to another voice you trust for honest and clear help. 

Cancel plans and make the work. 

© Rory Mulligan