It is great to do personal shoots on a regular basis, in order to keep the portfolio fresh. But I would say it is equally important — perhaps even MORE important — to have long-term personal projects. Think Nadav Kander’s Yangtze: The Long River or Sebastião Salgado’s Genesis. Building a project and having a view on an issue takes time. So it’s worth working on it for some time, even several years, to refine your message and artistic intent.
Add persistence to personal work and you’re pretty much guaranteed to find great opportunities along the way.
I have had a long-term project called Climate Heroes since 2010. I launched this project with a fellow photographer, who later had to step down, and I ended up running this ambitious project by myself for 1.5 years:
Climate Heroes is a non-profit media project and an educational essay for the public, which gathers worldwide stories of women and men, citizens, scientists, media and politics or entrepreneurs who have started acting to elevate consciousness about, mitigate, or understand Climate Change. By the positive examples they provide, they can inspire the great many to start mitigating climate change with small daily acts, or larger endeavors.
I initially looked for sponsorship by talking to contacts I had in large corporations. The body of work to be produced was very ambitious — and so was the budget I needed to gather. Several were very interested and I got reaaally close to writing the big check (that’s a 5-digit figure, between €200,000 and €300,000). Unfortunate events such as a buyout of the said company happening the week of the signature, made those plans fall short, and I had to continue working on my time and money, as I really believed in the content I could produce.
Later on, I decided I needed to recruit more fellow photographers as travelling to all those remote places was otherwise prove unsustainable for me. Thankfully, I was able to connect with amazing and talented people via the Internet, and we embarked on the v2 of the project: we founded an NGO in Paris, and everyone started working in their region, identifying and documenting Heroes around their home base.
Earlier this year, all this hard work started to pay off: partnering with renowned NGOs such as Global Call for Climate Action (an umbrella organization gathering big names as WWF, Greenpeace, 350.org, etc.), we produced a recent body of work as a group, with recent stories of Heroes from Indonesia, Thailand, Denmark, the Himalayas, Kenya, Canada, or Vietnam. We also portrayed Dr Ivonne Baki, Secretary of State of Ecuador, and Dr Jean Jouzel, IPCC Vice President and Nobel Prize, or Achim Steiner, Executive Director of UNEP
The amazing news then came through: Climate Heroes is now part of the momentforaction.org coalition, with Leonardo DiCaprio and the DiCaprio Foundation, WWF, Sierra Club, The Solutions Project, Amazon Watch, etc. This movement is going to be a huge push to call world leaders to action all of this coming year, until the Paris Climate Talks at end of 2015.
This past week, I was in New York to present the project during the UN General Assembly week and Climate Summit requested by Ban Ki-moon. It was a huge honor to be able to present our work with Climate Heroes at a conference sponsored by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The night saw the launch of photographer Henry Dallal’s new book Addressing Climate Change. Speakers included R.K. Pachauri, IPCC Chair and Nobel Laureate, the Secretary of State of Ecuador, Wael Hmaidan, Director of the Climate Action Network, UK climate change Minister, Greg Barker, and yours truly.
On that day, Climate Heroes also became much more visible, as we are now official partners of a coalition called momentforaction.org, for which the Climate Heroes team is at the front of production for most of the portraits and the storytelling visible on the website. This movement is featuring the Leonardo DiCaprio foundation, and echoes Leo DiCaprio’s Speech at the UN earlier that day.
So I hope that persistence continues to serve us well as we wrap this fourth year of work on Climate Heroes.
In any case, this is already a great validation for me and the team that you need to push your personal project hard, and long enough because
- you get better at what you do and increase the output of your initial idea by a great amount by sticking to it for several years
- and eventually, good work will get noticed.
What about you? Do you have any personal project that you kept working on and pushing relentlessly, which brought you recognition?
I’d love to hear about them in the comments below!