I believe that personal work for any artist is important. It has a dual purpose.
First, it allows photographers and illustrators to create something that feeds their soul. At the same time, that personal project may spawn an actual assignment with an art director or photo editor – personal projects are great indications that artists can showcase an idea that they’re passionate about and make it into a real story for possible publication.
It’s not just about playing with a new style or an interesting subject, either. The format you choose – a still photographer shooting video, for instance, or someone who shoots a ton of color shooting some personal black-and-white shots, or shooting with a Holga or some other alternative process – may allow additional creative freedom.
Personal projects also allow creative freedom that’s often impossible with commissioned assignments, which have advertising and editorial parameters that must be respected and fulfilled.
I recall one photographer who sent me an e-promo of his work that inspired me to go to his website. It was actually personal work, a project about abandoned buildings. As I was scrolling through this cool project, I found a building Trenton, NJ, the town where I grew up. My curiosity about the shot prompted a phone call and began our relationship-building for a future assignment.
What typically draws me into the personal projects on a website are the subjects or titles of the galleries. They have to be clever enough to get you into the project but not so unusual that you lose interest trying to figure out what they mean. Remember, the title of a gallery has to mean something to someone other than yourself!
Needless to say, each personal gallery must include well-executed photography! The strong edit is important to keeping the interest of the viewer, just as you would in any other gallery. Also, be mindful of subject matter – images that are too sexual or political, for instance, might offend a potential buyer, so save those for your fine art exhibit.
As long as you have these elements in order, your personal work can make a huge, positive impact. I recently worked with an Agency Access client, a photographer whose website was about 90 percent filled with personal projects he had shot on his own time and dime. This was unbeknownst to me prior to our call.
To me, these personal projects were as great as any editorial assigned work that I had commissioned for magazine assignments. It showed me his dedication and passion to shoot and ability to document lifestyles in a commercial and editorial market.
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