Hello personal project! Hello Games!

For readers who've followed me here from Small Aperture, you might have been wondering what happened to my trusty side-kick Gareth. Well, apart from becoming Daddy to his adorable little girl in December, he's embarked on a project to document a year in the life of a videogame company. This is his mid-term report, showing how he settled upon the project, the insane fears that initially overwhelmed him, and how he thinks he's doing so far.

Welcome back, Gareth...

When we think of great photography, to many, it's the idea of that one, iconic image: the one that sums up a whole story, an attitude, a way of thinking, an era, in one shot. These images should form imprints on our minds, be burned into our retinas as significant, moving pieces of imagery that make waves, make things happen, raise awareness, engender change.

Well I'm here to say knockers to that, because I'm doing the exact opposite – a long term photo project that will, once it's done, have taken me over a year to complete. Although it's true that everyone loves an iconic image, it's also true that everyone loves a good photobook, or a photo story. Yes, everyone. Yes, no, I can see your hand raised there, I'm going to ignore it. You DO enjoy a photobook, now put your hand down. All the way down. And don't sulk. I can see thattoo, so stop it. Thank you.

This is, essentially, my first, proper, long term, large-scale personal project. The first thing that smacked me in my big, beardy face was the difference between a project like this and a single commission. Imagine taking the visualisation you have in your head of a shoot lasting four or five hours. Now try and do that for a year.

How am I supposed to imagine where this will be in a year's time? What if we have hovercars by then? Should I incorporate that into my plan? Maybe cameras will be installed directly into our eyes and I will have become redundant as a photographer. Maybe, just maybe, cameras will have become sentient, like those Terminator films, and they'll be walking around, Gorillapods for legs, photographing us and uploading the images to Flickr where their other camera friends will comment on how good the shot is, even if it's not that good: 'Sony Cybershot #432 says "great shot, love the tones on that human, lol"'. We'll all be rendered artistically obsolete, and all the Canon EOS 1Ds will have MySpace profiles where they photograph themselves from a high angle to make their bodies look thinner.

Admittedly, I may have panicked a bit too much about it, but with these incredibly likely future events looming on the horizon, I wondered whether I was too casually getting into a project of a scale far larger than I was used to.

As one of my main hobbies is videogames and I have a bulk of editorial portraiture work I have undertaken for videogame publications, I decided to approach a small, independent games company with the prospect of documenting their day-to-day lives as they developed a videogame. I decided on this project for three, simple, extremely important reasons:

  1. My heart would be in it, as it's a subject I'm passionate about.
  2. It is a subject that I have not seen covered before anywhere else, so it is unique and fresh.
  3. Arguably the most important reason, it is about the people involved and a document about how much they love and care about what they are doing.

Keeping these reasons in mind simultaneously boosted my confidence and raised the stakes. These people had seen my quite-nice-portraits of industry figures they recognised and loved: they had been taken in by those images. As far as they were concerned, I would definitely do a good job of documenting their lives and the images would all come out as absolute classics to rival Neil Leifer's shot of Muhammad Ali standing over a downed Sonny Liston. Except instead of it being in a boxing ring in front of a couple of thousand people in Lewiston, Maine, I was to create the same, timeless images in a small, converted office that houses ten people in Guildford, Surrey.

The whole team are so nice and we get on so well that I would constantly (and still do, to some extent) have this enormous fear that I would let them down, that the work would not measure up to what they were expecting. My first piece of advice to anyone undertaking a large project would be to get a mock up put together as soon as you can. I spent a good six months looking at the images I had been taking in isolation, but once we did a mock up or put them in context in some way, I felt so much better about them. Similarly, when the article recently went live on Eurogamer (a popular gaming news and features website) and I could see the images in context, with an accompanying story, it made so much more sense.

Essentially, I'm learning as I go: it's incredibly fun, if a little stressful, and I am soon to spend an entire week with them in the attempt to capture some more natural shots of the more nervous members of the team, by sheer virtue of battering them into submission by constantly being there.

So to summarise this wall of insane, yet honest, writing, I'll tell you what I've learned about photo projects:

  1. Make sure you give a damn about the subject you're covering. If your heart's not in it, you won't produce interesting, emotional results.
  2. It's about the story and the people, and not necessarily about whether everyone in the shot is on the rule of thirds or exposed perfectly (although don't use this as an excuse for sloppy images)
  3. Get the shots in context in some way as soon as you can. Seriously, it will stop you from going insane.

Once the intensive week is complete (and I get a second to myself), I will bring you another update, documenting my ups, downs, and ultimately what I have learned from the experience. Basically, you'll be my collective, silent psychiatrist.