Project 1:1000 has its literal origins in Barcelona, Spain. It was there that I began to use a camera more than a pen and paper. I suppose it was a natural reaction to mostly capturing buildings, sculptures, statues, and cobblestone so old but so new and endearing to me, while lacking a vocabulary for these new shapes and things, so I just started shooting. And kept shooting. A lot.
Whereas I suppose art will find its way out in whatever vehicle it finds, I was both cognizant and self-conscious of this change of vehicles and that it might not be for the better.
I had left Costa Rica two years earlier, where I had spent a year mostly just writing. I had a simple 35 mm point-and-shoot camera (with film needing to be developed), which i rarely used, deferring instead to the written word, leaving the country with a few hammocks and spiral notebooks filled with poetry, monologues, short stories, and non-fiction accounts.
After helping my mother move out of my childhood home for a new job in Cleveland, I would take an 8000 mile roadtrip around the US, landing in NYC Game 4 of 2000 World Series. It was in NYC that I transcribed my writings from Costa Rica, and it amassed (250) 8 1/2 x 11 printed pages.
This divergence from the written word, and the preference for something in my mind much easier and lazier would coincide with a visit from a former Education professor.
It had been seven years since we met, when he asked me to stay after class as he handed me back my first essay.
He smiled, looked confused. "What are you doing?" he asked.
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"You're a writer. What are you doing in teaching?"
I told him I didn't really know; that I was in my first year of sobriety; that I had a degree in Acting and basically a degree in Spanish, but had brgun to wonder just what was I going to do with an Acting and a Spanish degree and acting seems so self-serving and education seems pretty cool, so I thought I'd try that.
Jeff Peterson gave me a wide open look. He and I had been good friends ever since. He had since left the academia, and was now leading educational tours mostly around Europe.
Project 1:1000 basically began as a pitch to him to take me on as a tour guide. But he had spoken ruefully about the softness of these tours, that much time was spent in touristy places and shopping malls.
So, in the fall of 2002, as his group approached Madrid, I conceived of an anti-tourist - and mostly anti-camera - tour. It called for a rebellion against tourism and consumerism and an embrace of places and their sights, sounds, tastes, customs, and cultures, what they bring up in - and how they change - a person.
I put together some quotes, thoughts, and few pictures, constructed a few webpages, and headed for Madrid. I took 200 mostly terrible pictures of the moon from my hostel balcony there.
It was great to see Jeff, but alas there was no room for me with his company. But the work was done. The foundation was laid. Energy is neither created nor destroyed.
After ending my time in Europe with a 60-day train (and plane) trip through France, Germany, Holland, England, Sweden, Italy, and Greece, I would return to the US with some 10,000 photographs. And dammit if friends and family didn't want to buy some. Then I had an art show. Then others bought them. Then my accountant friend said I could write that travel off if I made enough money to justify it. Greatest scam ever. Travel. Take pictures. Sell pictures. Write off travel.
But the IRS surely wasn't gonna let me just travel and write it off. I needed to get legit. I made about $5000 in photography in 2004-2005 - selling prints, senior portraits, a wedding or two, shooting people in my tiny living room with lamps - so in late 2005, I signed up for a 2-year lease on a studio space at $1000 per month. The combination of balls, ignorance, and optimistic math is impressive.
I had gotten in early enough on the set of swelling digital photography waves that I could make it work. I was good with computers, their programs, file archiving and display. I bought a constant studio light kit and learned how to use it. I upgraded to a strobe system from there.
The trajectory was good enough by December 2007 that my parents and I bought a building for my new studio, complete with a large space to rent out and a lease in place to fill it.
Thank God for that.
In 2008, the economic shit hit the fan. Money disappeared. Spending declined. Tough time to have just purchased a building and thousands of dollars in new equipment, demanding a commensurate rise in prices.
At the same time, as is always true, technology got better, faster, and easier to use. Such as it was with cameras and software. More and more "photographers" began to enter the market, in part due to increasing ease of use, in part due to the need for extra income in the shaky economy.
I could see the writing on the wall. And I hated it. The wall. The writing. Everything. I knew that this whole photography career thing would become harder and harder as things became cheaper and easier. And most "photographers" were shooting out of their homes, able to charge much less with no appreciable overhead.
I had never taken a photography class and never attended a workshop. I just did it. And resented everyone else after me, most of which did exactly the same.
Coinciding with this rise of technology and "photographers" was the product itself, the result of the shoot. When I began to shoot and sell, the products were paper, prints to be put in wallets or frames on the wall. 2x3, 8x10, 11x14, 16x20, 18x24, 24x36 inches at a time. This was how people displayed who and what they loved.
By 2008, mobile phones were starting to capture and store images. More and more, people were interested in the digital image itself, the file, basically the digital negative. And how does one charge for that, for something that can be recreated to fit in a wallet or on a billboard? Whatever it is, someone will charge less. Usually a friend or cousin just starting out. (Again - I get it. I was essentially cursing the same club I had burst into just three puny years earlier in exactly the same manner. Stupid club.)
The rise of social media and smartphones saw the end of a few things.
Now people who wanted to capture and show who and what they love could do both by themselves. The phone could take the picture, became the frame itself to show the picture to others in person, or upload the picture for all the world to see. Social media and its galleries became the digital frames, able to house as many pictures as the user desired.
With better and cheaper cameras, accessories, smartphones, and software, not only did the life of a brick-and-mortar professional photographer become harder, but the world itself became inundated with more and more images.
Hard times for someone trying to the value of the image, let alone the image itself. It would be 8 years before I could extricate myself from the building.
A few years earlier, I had been told by a dear friend who knows me well as a writer and actor that she was surprised when she'd heard I'd gotten into photography. "It seems like such a distraction," she said, and meant it mostly as a compliment, adding, "Must be hard to be good at everything you do."
I revisited that change of vehicles in Spain. I had seen the writing on my own wall, conceived a program combating the perils of photography. This had certainly come true in my own life, but had also come true in the world.
In June 2008, I revisited the notion of Project 1:1000, holding myself to its precepts for the first time, six years later.
I gathered images that had stories behind them. The first one to rise above them all was the picture of a boy in the Casbah in Tangier, Morocco. I just started writing, and as is usually true with my best words, I was surprised by what came out.
It was not an elaboration on him, it was an elaboration on me. My thoughts, memories, fears. It offered an insight into the picture that could not neither be inferred or likely imagined at all. At the risk of taking away the viewer's interpretation and experience of the photograph, the photographer would be relating their own - a somewhat dubious pursuit, as this might change from year to year. At the risk of putting too fine a point on it, or a tight frame around it, the exercise of delving into an image and exploring both its background, subtext, and natural environment was a valuable one.
Now it is 2018. We are absolutely smothered and zombified by images. My reticence and misgivings about lazily experiencing beautiful places for a camera in 2002 has become the norm in most places all the time. Cameras seem to be everywhere, their images shared somehow in even more places. The places where we cannot connect and share these images rather immediately are fewer and fewer. We are capturing more and more, while experiencing less and less. There is a sense that, unless it is captured and shared, it is unworthy of time and energy. Proof of living outweighs the living, itself.
As much as anything, the call to arms of 2002 was one to myself. It spoke of the perils of photography - at least in a digital, rapid fire, disconnected capture form. It spoke of a certain death of experience and the words they might birth, easily supplanted by a slick, respectively effortless format.
I am guilty of all of the above. I have taken somewhere likely approaching 500,000 photographs. Granted, many have been captured in a business setting, but the percentage of pictures to which I have an emotional connection; of which I knew the history, culture, and implications; of which I could remember the sights, sounds, and surroundings; and of which I could speak on the reasons for and results of...is frighteningly small. I have shot much, seen less, and felt even less than that. Granted, there is only so much time, but I can do better. We can do better.
Please find original thoughts, plans, and writings regarding Project 1:1000
(written in Barcelona, Spain in 2002) HERE.
Please note that not all links from these old webpages are functional.
(An additional window will be opened).