New Year is just around the corner and there is perhaps a chance you're looking for a photo project to keep you inspired and develop your skills throughout 2012. My dislike for 365 self-portrait projects isn't exactly a well-guarded secret, but that doesn't mean to say that I don't see the value in embarking on some kind of project. Quite the contrary, in fact. So, after much trawling of the Intergoogles for interesting ideas, and even a little dreaming of my own, here are ten of my favourite potential photographic projects. And there's not a 365 (or 366, given it's a leap year) self-portrait project in sight.
Architectural features - The town where my parents live has an unusual number of buildings with clocktowers. (My brother and I noticed this, I kid you not, when we were devising a zombie survival plan.) These clocktowers are beautiful and would make for an interesting series of images. So would weather vanes, or doors, or windows. Any architectural feature that piques your fancy could prove a challenging project over the course of a year. Or even a lifetime.
Do a Monet - Haystacks, the waterlillies at Giverny, Westminster: he painted them at different times of the year in different lighting conditions. (And indeed at different stages of his life. If you're wondering why the late pictures of the Japanese bridge are so red in tone, it was as the result of cataracts affecting his vision.) Anyway. Pick a landmark or a landscape and set about photographing it at different times of the day, in different weather conditions, and throughout the year.
Fairytales - I've seen this one mentioned on countless different websites, so I can't give credit where it's due for the person who thought of it originally, but I love it. Gather your capes, dust off your wands, construct your gingerbread houses, and set up your tripods!
Numbers - There are lots of ideas for alphabet and number photo projects out there. For this one, though, I was inspired by the BBC website magazine's '10 Things We Didn't Know Last Week'. Each week, the article is accompanied by a reader's image of a cluster of ten things. It's included a pile of skulls (ick); the contents of someone's packed lunch (yum); ten chairs at a cafe (yeah); and a pile of ten puppies (cute). So start with one, and go as high as you can photographing randomly spotted numbers of items in groups.
Portraits without a person (or at least most of one) - Capturing the essence of a person doesn't have to mean photographing her or him. When you get to know people, you realise that there are things about them that somehow define them. My brother's recognisable by his curly hair and if I'm seen without a particular pair of earrings it's likely to be a cold day in hell. Go out in search of those things that help define a person and you have a whole new series of portraits.
Recreation - No, I'm not suggesting that you might want to recreate some of your favourite photographers' best shots. I'm going for something a little different here. Why not try recreating a favourite painting? I don't know, John William Waterhouse's The Lady of Shalott, any of Degas' ballerinas, maybe even one of Fantin Latour's flower paintings; whatever takes your fancy. Getting this one right might take a year of planning for one photo, but it's definitely a project!
Seven Deadly Sins - Anger, envy, gluttony, greed, lust, pride, and sloth. You might want to create representations of them in the studio, but you could take this as more of a social documentary project and head out to photograph evidence of them in your community.
The spectrum - One of my favourite competition themes that I've set was 'monochrome'. The idea wasn't to produce black and white images, but one in a predominant colour. Why not take this idea one step further? Produce a series of monochrome images that run through the spectrum.
Tell a story - Pick a favourite story and retell it using a series of photographs. You can make this as involved or as simple as you want, and if you choose a loved-one's favourite book, it could make a wonderful gift.
Your weakest technique - Which element of the photographic canon do you find most difficult? A few years ago, I decided that portraits were something that I needed to improve. So I set myself a challenge to take more pictures of people, to evaluate them, and to chart my progress over the course of a year. Last year, it was all about diversifying my use of studio lights and trying new techniques and ideas. And 2012? I might aim for landscapes. It's where, right now, I feel least confident. Ask me again in a year's time, and hopefully it'll be a different story.
If you're looking for even more inspiration, you could check out Rania Matar's wonderful A girl and her room, Gabriel Orozco's quirky yellow scooter photos, Irina Werning's brilliant Chini Project, or Pixiq's own Miss Aniela's extraordinary multiplicitous self-portraits. Not forgetting series of shoes, pin-hole photography, opposites and dichotomies, 100 strangers, shooting from the hip, or documenting a day in someone's life.
Just remember, when you pick a project, you're in it for the long haul. You want something that's going to stretch and challenge you, but isn't going to overwhelm or bore you, either. Learn, and have fun!