street vendor

Finding a project in Paris

The opportunity to tag along with a friend on a trip to Europe came up last fall. For me, travel always means photography above all else and I was worried that I wouldn't come home with anything I was satisfied with, mostly because I wasn't going to be in any one place long enough to get comfortable. To say I was anxious would be an understatement. There were sleepless nights and dreams of rushing around, desperate to find photographs. I had many talks with friends about feeling like I had lost my "eye" or even my passion for photography. I went so far as to consider not bringing a camera at all. Thankfully, I did.

Two days into the trip I woke up early to walk around Amsterdam with my camera. While I had fun taking photos and like that the camera gives me a reason to explore, I was taking boring photos. The best moments were when strangers stopped to talk to me. I realized that I wanted to do something more than snapshots or postcard style images. I wanted to find inspiration for a project to work on. I even wrote in my journal that day about being bored with single photos.

For the next couple of days I used my camera a lot, mostly documenting my trip and only occasionally feeling drawn to something I truly wanted to photograph. I had 100 gigabytes of CF cards with me, so there was no risk of overshooting. I kept at it, trying to find the inspiration to go deeper.

After another day in Amsterdam and a week of bouncing around Belgium (an amazing country, by the way), I was in Paris for the first time in my life and this is where things really changed.

From my journal:

I took a photo today that I'm happy with. It's of a street vendor with Eiffel Tower keychains. I went outside of my comfort zone to ask (signal) if I could take a photo. I have to start doing that more.

There are no reasons to keep taking "safe" photos.

I can't say exactly why I was drawn to take the below photo, but the pull was strong. I knew the instant I took it that I had something. No matter what else happened, I had a photo that I liked and that I shot with purpose. For me, this moment made all of my anxiety and the entire trip worth it.

Illegal street vendor, Paris Paris, France

The next day I took another photo of a different street vendor.

IMG_1925-Edit Paris, France

That was it. I was leaving Paris for Copenhagen the next morning. I had two photos and the start of a project that I can't let go.

Without knowing it at the time, I had found the inspiration for a project. It seems crazy and overwhelming, but I can't stop thinking about these illegal street vendors, many of whom are immigrants, selling tokens of a place where they do not seem welcome. I want an in with them. I want some access to explore their lives and interactions. I want to know who they are. I want to dig deeper and see where it leads.

Sitting in the airport, I wrote in my journal again:

When leaving on this trip, I felt empty with regard to photography. I truly thought my passion for it was gone. It is not.

I've been back in Minneapolis for a few months and am starting to see things come together. I'm talking about this project with anyone who will listen. I'm getting offers of help from friends. I'm saving to go back to Paris in April and have been working toward continuing this project in a real way.

It's important to me that I go back on my own dime one more time before asking for any kind of funding or other financial help. Because of the travel involved, this will be an expensive project and I need to know for myself that I can pull it off and have the will to follow through.

Like a sign that I have to move forward with this, an opportunity came up that I had to take. In two weeks, one of my heroes, David Alan Harvey, is hosting a workshop at his Brooklyn loft on the topic of making books, fundraising, projects, etc. His amazing book was one of my favorites of 2012. I know this is going to challenge and inspire me in ways I can't yet imagine.

I'm excited and terrified in the best possible way.