How to Develop a Project: Eli Durst

From the series "Connecticut Community Center" © Eli Durst

From 2012 to 2016 fototazo published 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 SteinmetzTim DavisNicholas NixonJeff Whetstone and Erika Diettes.

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.

Responses in this new series have come from Elinor CarucciMichael ItkoffJackie NickersonAlessandra SanguinettiChris VereneLaura El-TantawyRory MulliganVanessa WinshipChris Steele-Perkins and Dragana Jurisic.

Today we continue the series with a response from Eli Durst.

Born and raised in Austin, Texas, Eli Durst graduated with a BA from Wesleyan University in 2011, where he majored in American Studies and French Studies. He then moved to New York, where he worked as an assistant to photographer Joel Meyerowitz and at the fine-art printing studio Griffin Editions. Eli earned an MFA in photography at the Yale School of Art in 2016.

From the series "Connecticut Community Center" © Eli Durst

For me, the middle of a photographic project is an occasion for reflection and analysis. It's a chance to spend time seriously looking at what you have. After the initial push to start a new body of work, I print out small proofs of every image I have and pin them to a wall so that I can live with them, so that I can try to see what I actually have and not simply what I thought I was going for—this can prove much more difficult than it seems.

While looking at the images, I ask myself: How do the images that I've made differ from my original idea? Are they better or worse? Do the photographs simply confirm my “thesis” or challenge it in some way? Ideally, the photos will confuse or complicate my original conceit. I fell in love with photography because it's a kind of collaboration with the world and, in this sense, the results can be so much more engaging or fulfilling than you could have possibly planned.

Just as I evaluate my ideas, I will also consider the images from a formal perspective. Am I falling into a sort of default composition or lighting set-up? Does every image feel the same? Are there types of images that I'm avoiding? Are the images too varied to make sense together? Then, based on my subject matter, I'll try to answer these questions as best as I can while also remembering that sometimes these questions can only be answered by more shooting.

To me, the middle of a project is always a bit murkier than the excitement of beginning a new project or the satisfaction of finishing one. That being said, I think it's important to take a pause and really try to evaluate, without mercy, what you have in front of you.

From the series "Pinnacle Realty" © Eli Durst

From the series "Pinnacle Realty" © Eli Durst