Editing and Sequencing

Cocoon #167

A few years ago, when I began posting some of my early photographic attempts on Facebook, one of my friends replied by posting a picture that her 12-year-old child had taken. "See," she said, "my daughter is a photographer, too!"

It's something that those of us who call ourselves photographers face over and over again. With cell phones and point and shoot cameras increasing in their ability to render good images, it's easy for all of us to occasionally take a great picture. So what differentiates an amateur from someone who is really dedicated to creating art with photography? I learned a lot about that earlier in May when I attended a workshop in editing and sequencing a body of work, taught by Magdalena Sole and Elizabeth Avedon.

What photographers do that amateurs don't is, first, make strong images consistently and then put them together in ways that emphasize the strongest shots in a sequence that engages the viewer at a level that the single shots alone can't. That level may be conceptual, graphic, aesthetic, or emotional. The images act like notes in a song, whose timing and arrangement create something larger than what the notes scattered randomly could do on their own.

During the workshop, I re-edited the Cocoon project that I have been working on for the past several years. I chose that body of work at the suggestion of the instructors who believed it would give me the most interesting set of images to edit and sequence. Frankly, going into the workshop, I wasn't sure they were right. I was a little tired of the series and felt like I had wrung everything out of it that was there to find. I was certainly wrong.

I discovered several things over the course of my week with Elizabeth and Magdalena.. First, because they'd asked for at least 300 images to start with, I went back through old cocoon shoots in order to fill out the initial pool. In the course of that exercise, I discovered images that hadn't seemed interesting at the time but became interesting now as I saw them again. The images in this blog post are two of those.  I think I was more able to see subtle images as I looked back over the work and I was able to see early images in the context of later images which help those earlier images become more interesting.

Cocoon #168

I also learned how hard it is to edit your own work. I have an emotional attachment to many images that make it hard to leave weaker images out of the selection. It becomes as simple, at times, as wanting to make sure all my models are represented in work that I'm showing, or remembering the special quality of a particular shoot and wanting to represent that as well. Someone who can look at the body of work more objectively can be very helpful in making sure that I don't include favorite, but mediocre, photos.

I found that the process of editing and sequencing is largely intuitive. Or perhaps a better way to say it is that it's primarily learned by experience. I watched as Magdalena and Elizabeth helped all nine of my fellow workshop participants edit their work and learned a tremendous amount as I did so. I kept wishing for principles, or a schema by which to understand sequencing in particular, but didn't really find attempts to generate them useful.

The image selection process was painful, and the struggle to create a sequence took time, but in the end I was really pleased with what resulted.  The narrative flow that organized my work was moving from simple and classically beautiful images to darker and more complex images. I also was interested in ending with the cocoon fabric being torn open to represent the whole notion of emergence we associate with a cocoon. 

I have posted the updated edit of the cocoon series on the website. I'd love for you to take a look and tell me what you think.