The Therapy of Creating a Body of Work

Creating a body of work – a series of pieces that cohesively go together to form a bigger story is a very different practice to creating single images.

See, a body of work is usually created over time and time means an idea has space to grow, to develop and evolve. In my experience the process goes something like this:

I come up with a concept, something that I think the work is about. From that concept I research, plan, sketch, gather and then I start to shoot. I shoot one image, then more. And as I shoot, I refine on tiny tiny levels. I look at an image that I have shot as planned and then I tweak it slightly and shoot another frame. I see something in the moment that sends the idea on a different tangent so I shoot that. I pull the images I’ve shot so far together and they speak in and around each other and that causes new parts of the story to come to light so I shoot those too. I start to play with editing ideas.

I live and create in the moment.

And then, inevitably, there comes a point (usually frustratingly close to the end of the project) where I look at the images and see something else. Often it comes off the back of one or two images that have transitioned out of all these tiny tiny tweaks and changes. Sometimes it comes from just seeing all the pieces together and how they interact.

Something else.

That something else is a new concept. A deeper, more refined one. That concept is what the work is really about.

Like sessions of therapy, I start with the surface, the conscious thoughts. I explore them, connect them. I let the thoughts lead me where they need to go. And I come out with the subconscious, the deep, dark, real feelings, the ones that are too fragile and too strong to sit on the surface of my mind.

This is what the work is really about.

It’s an almost startling process, but beautiful and amazing at the same time. It’s the reason too, I think, that we should always start creating, even if we don’t have the full picture. The process is one of learning and of discovery. Of making beautiful and important things that speak to us and others and of finding little parts of ourselves along the way.

When I first started photography, I used to shoot only single images, each piece with its own concept and story. I looked for a level of cohesiveness in my overall style but beyond that never took the time to explore an idea across a series. The first “series” I shot was a collection of macro nature images for my first portfolio assessment in my photography course but it wasn’t until I really went into the process with the idea of building a multilayered concept across a body of work that I really started to feel the benefits. My work became better, stronger in composition and with more depth. I felt more connected to it.

I’ve shot a number of photographic series since my first explorations and each of them holds a special place in my artistic progression and experience. The individual photos I take in between series work allow me some breathing space from the more intense commitment required but also allow me to explore ideas that may then become something deeper. I believe that both methods have benefits as part of a creative practice and I’m grateful to have the flexibility to explore creativity in multiple ways.

Have you created a series of work or do you usually shoot only in single images or concepts?

Creative and conceptual photographic series for inspiration:

Kirsty Mitchell – Nocturne

Jennifer Thoreson – Traveler

Jennifer Thoreson – Flora

Brooke Shaden – Fourth Wall

Andrea Chapman – Four Walls

Andrea Chapman – Invisible