(Make sure to check out the second post in this series, My Grant Experience, pt. II, if you haven't done so yet.)
It's easy to see a long term photography project and forget about all the relational preparation that must take place. Relational preparation is what takes place between and before the photographs are taken. For a little over a month and a half I would go over to the trailer park once a week to hang out for a couple of hours without my camera. I used this time to get to know those in the park, become comfortable with the surroundings, allow them to get to know me, and to show them I was really interested in them.
Let me interrupt myself to go on a philosophical (if that is even the right word for it) rant for just one moment. We live in a throw away culture. One dominated by the need to satisfy self. I am a part of this culture. A side effect of this type of living is people don't feel valued. People aren't stupid. They know when you are using them or taking advantage of them. I see this side effect rear it's ugly head quite often in photography (especially photojournalism and documentary). Photographers go in, looking to make the best image, and forget they are photographing people. Feelings are pushed aside, pain is pimped through the imagery, and the ones being photographed are left more scarred than they were before our arrival.
That being said, whenever possible, I try to spend as much time with the people I am photographing before hand. I don't bring my camera because I want to spend that time getting to know them. I'm not trying to hide who I am in any way. I'll freely tell them I'm a photographer and that I'm pursuing a photo project. I want the people I photograph to know that I respect them. I want to show them dignity. For me, this is the hardest aspect of shooting a long term project. Often times my mind is on the images and not on the people. I'm constantly readjusting my focus. The images will come but not until the relationships are built. In the end I always find the relationships are the most rewarding part. My images will one day fade from my mind. I'll forget about them as they get lost in terabits of data and they are replaced on my website with better images.
What I will not forget are the relationships.
Next up we'll take a look at some images!