Year-long photography project draws to a close
Sheffield photographer Luke Avery’s marathon 365 photography project is complete, after a year of taking a photo for it almost every day.
I’ve personally really enjoyed looking at the latest picture each day. Flicking through the set of photos is fascinating, whether you are looking out for the locations, the changing seasons, the fashions, the composition or of course the mix of personalities that are featured and their background stories.
I asked him a few questions about the Sheffield 365 project, including how it has changed his perception of the city and what plans he has for it going into 2011.
How do you feel like the project is almost over – a sense of achievement, pride, sadness or relief?
I think it’s really a mix of all four. The project has become such a part of my life that on a day to day basis it doesn’t feel like an achievement – it’s just what I do. That said, when I occasionally stop to look back on the project as a whole it definitely feels like an achievement.
In the best way possible I’m really looking forward to not needing to go out and persuade a stranger to let me take their photo, although I expect that as soon as a couple of weeks of January have passed I’ll begin to miss all those random interactions and encounters that have occurred over this year.
For the most part I am very proud of the work that the project has produced. Being something of a technical perfectionist, some of the photos aren’t quite as in focus/lit/framed as I’d ideally like, but I think that probably can be chalked up to being my own worst critic. Certainly for every photo that is slightly off the ideal, there is (at least) one that I’m really pleased with, so it works out nicely overall.
How did you fit the project into your working and personal routine? Did you not leave the city for more than a day or so during the whole of 2010?
With a lot of practice is I think the short answer to the first part of the question. Initially it was the new thing and I was excited to get out and shoot the photo each day. By the time the new-project excitement had worn off, it was beginning to become part of my daily routine and so I just had to keep working at it until it became totally natural to head out and walk the streets (so to speak).
In answer to the second part of the question, I would say that about 90-95% of the photos were shot on the day they appear and the rest were shot within a day or two. So yes, I did leave Sheffield on the odd occasion, but not very often. Apologies if that’s shattered any illusions.
It must have taken you to parts of Sheffield you’ve never been to before. Has your view of the city changed in 12 months because of this?
Absolutely. When I first started the project I knew relatively few areas of the city – Crookes, Walkley, Ecclesall road, the city centre – the usual Sheffield university student areas, whereas now I feel pretty confident getting myself anywhere in the city. I suppose if I fail at being a photographer I can always take up taxi driving!
When I set out in January I had no idea that Sheffield was such a varied city. My experience until that point had been simply turn of the century terraced houses with the occasional new development chucked in for good measure. Think about the variation that you get from Ranmoor to Hillsborough to Southey to Gleadless Valley to Frecheville. I distinctly remember early in January driving (without really knowing where I was going) from Intake into Gleadless Valley and being amazed at the fact that there were these massive tower blocks that I hadn’t known existed.
I’ve spent a fair while stood on hillsides and attempting to piece how the city fits together. Actually thinking of standing in places with a view, I’ve discovered lots of great new parks and open spaces that I was blissfully ignorant of 365 days ago.
What did you say to strangers when you approached them and asked if you could take a photo? Did many people turn you down?
I’ve tried to keep everything as quick as possible for the subjects (they probably have better things to do with their time than talk to wandering photographers). I tell people I’m doing a photo art/documentary project which involves shooting daily portraits of Sheffield people and would they be willing to have their photo taken and be part of the project. Or words to that effect. If they agree in principle I give them a bit more info on where the photos are being shown and that sort of thing. For some subject, that’s enough info and they head on their way pretty quickly after having their photo taken. Others are more chatty/curious and I’ve ended up having decent conversations with a couple of my subjects from time to time.
In answer to the second half of the question, yes, I do get turned down a lot. I probably have to ask somewhere between three and 12 people on average in order to find someone willing to have their photo taken. I’ve managed to get that number down a bit as the year has progressed and I’ve got better at predicting who is likely to turn me down. For example, people looking busy/walking in a hurry for example are often not worth asking.
I’ve had quite a wide range of reasons for not taking part, but the usual culprits are not enough time/busy and don’t like having their photo taken generally. I suspect most people that turn me down are also a bit suspicious about either the project or my motives. Generally though, I’m ok with being turned down – I’d far rather have willing subjects than ones who’s arms I have to twist.
I’ve also confirmed what I already knew – that Sheffield people are very friendly. The worst reaction I’ve had from the hundreds or thousands of people that I’ve asked throughout the project is a straight ‘no’ and carry on their way, and even that’s only happened three or four times. Everyone else has been somewhere between civil and outright friendly.
Which are your favourite pictures?
That’s quite a tough question, asking me to whittle down 365 photos into just a handful… I like the photos for a variety of reasons, mainly for either technical excellence (where the lighting/pose/background/etc are great) or for having a great backstory to go with them. It’s taken several rounds of tough, ruthless shortlisting (from about 30 photos, to 12, to the final list) in order to get this list, but here goes:
January 6th – Dodger, Upperthorpe
March 24th – Mick, Burngreave
April 9 – Westham, Netherthorpe
May 6 – Erica, Dore
June 18 – Mahd, Burngreave
July 7th – Margaret, Middlewood
October 6 – Terry, Loxley
December 15 – John & John, Heeley
On the topic of choosing favourites, I’m giving away four prints of photos from the project in a variety of ways over the next few weeks or months, and to be in with a chance of winning the first one people just have to leave a comment on the website (or Facebook page) letting me know which their favourite photo is. Simple as that.
The project got plenty of exposure via social media. How did you use this and is it an important way of promoting your work?
This is one of the things that has been new to me on this project and definitely a learning curve. The photos from the project have been visible not only on the main website that I built for it (www.sheffield365project.co.uk) but also on Flickr and on Facebook (facebook.com/sheffield365project).
During the course of the year I was persuaded to give Twitter a go (@lukeaveryphoto), so I’ve been linking back to the main site from there when the photo comes out every day. I decided that the Twitter account would be one for Luke Avery Photography as a whole rather than just Sheffield 365 Project, so it’s not just info about this project that gets posted on there.
For me social media has been (and still is) very much of a love-hate relationship. I am far from Facebook’s biggest fan and whilst I completely acknowledge the benefits it brings in terms of instantly connecting to people all over the place, it’s not something I really enjoy or use. In many respects I’m pretty old fashioned when it comes to connecting with others. A lot of my contact comes through emails, phone calls, and actual face-to-face meetings (my personal favourite).
That all said, I have enjoyed Twitter and so I’ll keep using that and I have started a blog for Luke Avery Photography (luke-avery.com/blog), so I will be keeping some of the social media-ness that I’ve developed over the course of this project, but you probably won’t see an official Luke Avery Photography Facebook page cropping up any time soon. That is unless someone can sell it to me in a very convincing manner…
Did the project raise the profile of Luke Avery Photography and has it led to more business?
I think it has definitely raised my profile as a photographer, however whether it has raised it with those who would be potential clients has yet to be seen. I’ve not had huge amounts of work come through the door as a direct result of the project, but then I work mainly as a commercial and editorial photographer (businesses and magazines), and they aren’t necessarily the people I’m photographing for this project. That said, I’m not averse to shooting photos for personal clients, it’s just not where I put my effort into marketing.
Overall, the project was never meant to be a promotional tool for Luke Avery Photography, even if that has turned into one of the side effects. I always intended it to be an art project, where the only intended endgame was to produce a set of interesting portraits that depict Sheffield folk throughout 2010 and I think I’ve managed that.
It would be great to see the full set of photos exhibited in Sheffield in 2011. Is this something you’re hoping to do? Might there even be a book?
Absolutely. I had originally planned to be very organised and sort it all out in advance of 31 December, so I could announce it all come 1 January and there’d be a nice continuity. Unfortunately that hasn’t happened, mainly thanks to a plethora of work that’s occurred over the last six or so weeks and eaten up most of my time.
So, as a result of that I’m now going to start trying to pull together a show once January rolls around. I’ve come to the realisation that putting on a show of all 365 portraits properly is going to be an expensive business and so I’m looking into the funding and sponsorship options. If anyone reading this fancies getting involved then send me an email.
I can reveal that there will definitely be a book of the project. I’m not 100% sure what format it will be, but thanks to the various websites offering self publishing options, I will make sure that something comes out. That said, it would be fantastic if an actual publisher got behind the project and put a book out for it, but until then it’s down the self publishing route I go.
Luke Avery, the photographer behind the Sheffield 365 project, used with permission