The question of the series came up when I asked myself what was expected from a photographer to succeed in a photo contest. At a time when the practice of the snapshot is becoming more and more democratic, one can have the impression that the practice of photo series is fading away.
This phenomenon, linked in particular to Instagram, which gives pride of place to momentary images, questions the necessity of constructing a purpose in time. Creating images does not necessarily mean creating meaning. That’s why succeeding in a photo contest is above all to be able to propose a coherent series, a skill that can be learned, whether you are trained or self-taught.
Sonia Seraidarian, founder of Oeildeep, has created a platform that offers professional and amateur photographers the opportunity to attend workshops and master classes to build their photographic approach. In daily contact with great names in photography and others in the making, Sonia enlightens us on the creative process.
Sonia, what is your background and how did you come to the conclusion that there was a demand for photography courses?
After a career in marketing, I had the opportunity to work with an author-photographer for several years (between 2009-2014) on several projects including productions, exhibitions, book publishing … Being part of this daily creative process made me want to help imagine and develop a structure that would support photographers in the long term. A six-month period seemed to me an appropriate length of time to start photographic work, to develop one’s creativity and to produce a series. The idea of this coaching project was also born from the observation that photographers are often alone in their project, whereas the intervention of outside eyes seems to me necessary at the different stages of their production. Oeildeep offers two formats: the photo bootcamp, intensive workshops in unique locations, and masterclasses that help participants develop their photographic writing over 6 months.
Are time and immersion essential elements of the creative process?
The photo bootcamp and masterclasses are two complementary formulas: photographers do not achieve the same result. The first formula is a week-long event during which participants go abroad to stimulate their creativity. The second corresponds to a six-month commitment. Although some photographers work fast, time remains a fundamental notion in the creative process, as does immersion. Creating a series requires a lot of personal investment. Jane Evelyn Atwood, Jean-Christian Bourcart, Denis Daillleux, Laura Serani, Audrey Hoareau, Nicolas Havette, Stefano De Luigi… great names in photography, with very distinct practices and professions, animate the Oeildeep masterclasses.
Is it better to work alongside a mentor with the same photographic universe?
I believe that it is essential to cross the eyes of mentors with different backgrounds in order to nourish creation. That is why the teaching team for the masterclasses is always composed of three participants: two professional photographers and a curator, gallery owner or editor. Even if at the beginning the participant may feel destabilized by this plurality of exchanges, this process will allow them to affirm and refine their gaze, to find their style and to develop their own photographic language. At the end, the photographic choice is always up to themselves.
Does technique always rhyme with series?
Many photographers censor themselves before they even start producing. I often advise them to put technique aside and follow their eye, their instinct. The most important thing is to express oneself and, in my opinion, technique should not be a hindrance to creation.
What are the different stages in the construction of a series? Is there one more delicate than the others?
Before starting, there is a reflection to be carried out on the subject. A passage through writing is often interesting, even very synthetic, because it allows you to pose your subject, to mark out the framework and to clarify your ideas. Then comes the production stage, which often generates a lot of stress. I think it’s important to keep in mind the notion of pleasure during the shooting. Then comes the editing. This is the most delicate and fundamental stage. Don’t hesitate to put your work aside for a while, let it rest, to come back to it later and rediscover it in a different way. Editing is difficult for a photographer, especially when emotion is at stake because one can imagine that more personal choices can be made that could harm the series. That’s when an outside look is interesting, and therefore necessary. Between competitions, festivals, exhibitions, publishing, press… we can say that the choice of publication formats is wide.
How do you bring a series to life after its production?
When the project is finished, depending on the type of restitution (exhibition, publication, screening…), a series needs to be reworked. This is a more formal stage in its own right, one that sometimes requires several editings.
More and more photo competitions are emerging. What is the best way to choose which ones to participate in?
Take the time to do some real investigative work on contests, calls for entries, festivals etc., this way you can find your place. I don’t think it’s efficient to send a multitude of applications, and from experience I know how long and tedious it can be. My advice is to send few applications and to target them well by proposing a series that fits rigorously within the framework of the competition.
A suggestion for photographers looking for inspiration for their next series?
Produce, create, treat yourself, test yourself and follow your instincts. If you think too much about the “after”, you often stall the creative process. In fact, I often see it during masterclasses: amateur photographers don’t have this professional pressure behind them and are freer in their creativity. On the contrary, a professional photographer will often put more barriers before starting to produce. Of course, you have to be aware of where you want to go without erecting blocking walls in front of you that shouldn’t exist. Creation, as I understand it, calls for freedom from all that.
Which Instagram account do you recommend I follow?
An Irish photographer @deborahsheedy whose dreamlike and misty world touches me particularly. On a completely different note, check out @theanonymousphotoproject which makes me laugh a lot. There is also a photographer that I regularly follow @alisaresnik and who is currently exhibited at the Planche Contact festival in Deauville. To follow the next masterclass, directed by Jane Evelyn Atwood, Jean-Christian Bourcart and Nicolas Havette next March, go to oeildeep.com.
Photo credit: ©Jean-Christian Bourcart