What inspired you to start taking photographs, and what have been some of the most important milestones in your career up until now?
I began taking photographs in my third year of university. I was in the fine arts program with my focus in printmaking but since I used a lot of photo imagery in my prints I decided I should take a photography class in case I couldn't find existing imagery out there. Remember, this is before the days of the internet so when you wanted to find pictures you had to look through magazines and books like the encyclopedia. I went to Europe that summer for a holiday taking pictures while over there and when I came home and developed my film I decided to switch my focus to photography.
Milestones, that's tough. There are the obvious ones like having my first book "America Swings" published by TASCHEN, being selected by World Press Photo to attend their Joop Swart Master Class and receiving the Canada Council for the Arts grants but I guess every day I still do this and haven't quit photography yet is a milestone!
How do you approach editing your work, and what advice would you give to others about evaluating their photographs?
Editing is very intuitive for me. I look over a contact sheet and the best images stand out immediately so I circle them. This is something I miss when I shoot digitally, to be able to look at the contact sheet with my markings and notes all over it.
When working on a project I think it's important to make a very wide edit and scan these images to look further at as a group. Then you whittle your way down from there. Of course there are those photos that you know instantly you want to include but then sometimes you need to take stock as to what you already have, what is too similar to one another, what sorts of images are you lacking etc. Sometimes a picture might end up in your final edit and not because it's one of your favourites but because it's the only one of it's kind and you need it to complete the story and to make it more well rounded.
I think another important key to editing is to forget about the experiences that you had while taking the photograph. It's easy to get caught up in the backstory of how much fun you had or how hard it was to obtain that photo but that's your own personal experience, your viewer didn't share in that experience and only judge a photo based on it's contents not the hows and whys.
How do you decide on new projects to work on? Do you always shoot with a concept in mind or do you wait to be inspired as you go?
Each project I shoot is unique but all share this in common: will I get bored shooting this? Like the most recent project I'm working on EUSA I discovered while in Georgia shooting the last swinger party for America Swings. I stumbled upon this Bavarian town in the middle of America's deep south and after doing some research for other similar locations a project was born! I've been traveling around the US and Europe shooting this off and on since 2008 and hope to be done and a book released fall of 2015.
So far I shoot mainly reportage style waiting to see what will be there when I arrive. This is true of my portraits as well. But I'm interested in trying to shoot a little more conceptually though for future projects. For one thing I seem to always pick subjects that require a ton of travel and that ends up taking a toll both financially and physically. I find it harder and harder to find things that other photographers haven't gotten to first so maybe by coming up with something weird and wacky in my mind and executing it in a studio I can create something new and unique and not have to get dressed in the morning either!
What ways have you found successful for promoting your work and finding a receptive audience for it?
Hmmm, I'm still trying to figure that one out myself. Like when the swingers book came out it was before Twitter and I wasn't doing Facebook yet so I relied solely on the publisher to promote it. Today there are so many social media outlets as well as a ton of blogs which I also question a little. Like when I first started in this business there were a few photo magazines that published monthly or bimonthly and to be featured in there was a super big deal and each magazine wanted to be the first to discover a project and people really took stock in what was being featured. Today there are so many photo blogs and they need new content on a daily basis so I find the quality of work being showcased has gotten really pitiful. I think a lot of mediocre work ends up being elevated to some other level because of people sharing links on Facebook and Twitter and a buzz is created around it. As well as I find a lot of these media outlets to be lazy, like if your story was written up somewhere another blog will jump on board often not even interviewing you but just paraphrasing the original article and using those same photos, pretty much recycling it.
Last summer I drove around the US with my dog living out of my car and while I did use Instagram a little (to show Maggie on our travels) I didn't do a blog or too much around shooting. I think sometimes the focus is put on the promotion of a project and the social media angle and the experience of being present and taking good pictures is lost.
"California Dreaming" Project, from the series Portraits
Claire UK, from the series Portraits
Albino Identical Twins, Acadia Hutterite Colony, Manitoba, July 2011, from the series Oh Canada
© copyright all images Naomi Harris, all rights reserved