+ I first learned about Día de los Muertos from a student I had in class circa 1997. She had the most beautiful name, and I've often wondered what happened to her (she only lived in Montana for a year or two).
+ In the spectrum of how one might react to sugar skull imagery, I fall far on the side of "this is amazing" vs. "this is totally creepy."
+ Until last week, I totally missed that marigolds are associated with Día de los Muertos. Marigolds are one of my favorite flowers, and we all decided that when it comes to observing traditions not our own, it's a lot easier to decorate our home with marigolds than it is to eat a cake with a plastic baby tucked inside. (Even though Gracie is skating on three lifetimes of good luck based on the amount of plastic babies she almost bit into in Louisiana)
I took a picture of our marigolds this week but this one is from 2011 to prove the point that I love marigolds.
Please join me in welcoming photographer Holly Clark as this month's Unfinished interview guest! Holly is a friend of mine you may remember from Phone Photography Project I & II at Big Picture Classes. You can catch up on all the Unfinished interview series guests here!
Please tell us a little bit about your background and how you found photography. Currently I’m a freelance photographer and graphic designer based out of Philadelphia. I’ve been working as a designer for almost 20 years, and more recently as an Event and Stock photographer for the past 5 years. Occasionally I’ll photograph a wedding or take on some family/portrait work—usually maternity and newborn—but only for friends and contacts or direct referrals and if the shoot will be available to license as stock photography. In the past few years, I have also taught classes on RAW and Event photography for Big Picture Classes, photography workshops on “Shooting for Design” based on using and shooting images for designers, as well as writing for Bella Grace magazine, which celebrates everyday beauty through images.
As for how this all came about? Well, I’ve been immersed in some type of creative project or another for as long as I can remember. My mother is an incredibly talented artist and was an art teacher before becoming our mom. She has the kind of talent that annoys the hell out of me because she can pick up a pencil/crayon/paintbrush/whatever and draw life as realistically as possible—something that I struggled with in my art classes. As a child, she was forever “helping” me with my art homework; she couldn’t help herself! She also happened to be the substitute art teacher for my school district, so as I progressed into advanced art classes, my teachers had to laughingly ask her to butt out! Before I found graphic design, I loved to paint, however once I discovered design, all other art forms faded away. The one exception to this was photography, which I studied in both high school and college.
After college, I mainly used photography for documenting the events of my life: holidays, vacations, weddings, parties, and outings with friends. I have scrapbooks full of them! So I suppose you could say, that I’ve been an event photographer at heart for most of my life. In 2004, I dumped my beloved film camera, the original Canon Rebel, into water for the third time, and I didn’t bother to fix it. I survived on disposable cameras, the broken Rebel and a digital point-and-shoot, until receiving a Canon 40D as an early Christmas gift before traveling to India in 2007. I mainly used that camera to document my travels and personal events before diving into Tracy Clark’s “Picture” classes in 2010. I hadn’t realized how lacking in personal expression I had been with my work until shooting everyday beauty and simple things “just because.” Coming from the era of film, these subjects seemed costly to shoot unless developing your own film or working in your own darkroom. And even though I’d been using Photoshop professionally for 15 years as a designer, I had no interest in exploring it after work hours...until I discovered RAW photography later that year. One thing lead to another, and I sold my first image before the year was out and shooting professionally early the following year.
You’ve tackled a number of big personal photography projects outside your professional work—can you describe a few of your favorites? Do you work on more than one at once or whatever catches your interest on any specific day?
Back in the beginning of my reawakening to photography, I embarked on a self-portrait project called “52 Weeks of BAM" shooting a self-portrait every week for a year beginning on my 37th birthday. I cherish those photos and love that I was so open and willing to turn the camera on myself. The following year, in 2011, I tackled a 365 where I shot and shared a photo every day of the year. This was actually quite challenging as I’d begun shooting events professionally that year and keeping up with everything got to be a bit of a chore by the end of the year, but it was an incredible experience and one that I often think of starting again. In the middle of that 365, I randomly began shooting my cup of coffee “from where I stand” and sharing it on Instagram. This eventually kicked off a daily photo project called The Mug Chronicles, which I am still shooting four and half years later! During the month of November, I joined in “30 Days of Gratitude” on flickr, sharing the things that I was grateful for, and I truly loved this project. I did it for two years on Flickr from 2010 to 2011, and then on Instagram from 2012 to 2013. I am also working on an ongoing project I call Making Space that I wrote about in Bella Grace earlier this year about shooting photographs of things that I have loved, but decided to pass on, because I wanted to remember them and felt it was wrong to hang on to so many items that could still be useful to others just because I find it hard to let go.
So I guess you could say that, yes, I have often worked on many projects at the same time in the past, and it is common for them to overlap, however currently, I’m trying to keep it to just a few. I tend to bite off more than I can chew when it comes to these things, so I’ve decided to keep the projects simple and allow them to unfold as they happen, and not plan them out too much. The three ongoing projects I mentioned above are not big time commitments and more to keep my creative juices flowing or as a way to find more beauty in my personal life.
How do you handle a project that isn’t clicking anymore? Do you struggle with guilt in the decision to finish or abandon it?
I’ve started so many projects that have never seen completion! From online classes to personal project, I have a list a mile long of my own “Unfinished” projects I could share with you! I began a second “52 Weeks of Bam” that was never completed, only shared 6 photos of 30 Days of Gratitude in 2013, and earlier that same year abandoned a 365 shot on Polaroid film after eight months of shooting! I'd even announced the project on the photography site Mortal Muses; so much for accountability. In early 2015 I finally (after owning the URL for more than 10 years) launched a personal blog—and then promptly put it on the backburner after writing my "about" page. I would love to return to this at a later date, but for now, it will sit there awaiting a new theme that “feels” more like me. I had thoughts of doing this year’s 30 Days of Gratitude on the blog, but doubt that is going to happen.
I have thousands of photographs sitting on external hard drives, with people waiting to see them, that have never seen the light of day once they’d made it off of my camera. The backlog of images I have to work on is embarrassing. In the back of my head, I know that I’ll get to them someday, I just don’t know when. I tend to edit according to mood or in the case of stock photography to season, so often shoots that I didn’t get to will just have to wait for the following year.
But the thing is, having so many open-ended projects drives me—and my family members and friend waiting to see the images—crazy. It makes me wonder if I have commitment issues, and then I wonder why I find it easier to start things than to end them. I wonder if I’m filling up all of my space with personal projects and shoots to avoid committing to growing professionally and working on professional projects instead. After wrangling with these thoughts over and over again like a broken record, I’ve decided to abandon many of them until I feel inspired to work on them again. Otherwise, I’ll be living in a constant state of agitation over what to work on next, which isn’t a healthy place to be.
And guilt? Oh the guilt. I still feel guilty for not finishing online workshops and classes that I committed to personally and financially four years ago, but didn’t find the time to complete. Oh well. In the end, I’m just human. I know that when and if I decide to approach an old project, it will be because inspiration called me to return to it. So I think it’s okay to feel guilty in the moment, just to not to let it take over the joy of working on the projects that are ongoing right now.
What advice do you offer to photographers looking to commit to their own personal project?
Go for it! Personal projects give us the most creative freedom we will ever find! It’s exciting to explore new ideas and see where our art will take us. If it’s not working like we’d hoped, then we know it’s time to move on, or ask ourselves why it’s stagnating and then redirect. Sometimes just the joy of having started the project is all we need. The completion could, in fact, be superfluous to having begun it in the first place. It’s recognizing when this happens that is key.
Do you have any lingering projects you’d like to finish up (or abandon guilt-free) in the coming months?
Yes of course! I’d like to enjoy 30 Days of Gratitude this month and continue shooting The Mug Chronicles, but otherwise, I want to wrap up a number of shoots that I’ve taken of friends and their families that have yet to be completed. Shoots we did that I can use for my Stocksy United portfolio, and that they have been looking forward to seeing (sometimes for years)! I would also like to complete some non-photography projects at home as well, such as organizing my office, addressing an overflowing attic and basement and moving on from items in my wardrobe that I abandoned long ago but have yet to let go (we all have those, don’t we?). I also intend to have a huge bonfire to burn all of the outdated papers (and tax files) that I’ve been clogging up my filing cabinets for years, and with that fire, I plan on releasing a lot of guilt that goes along with it. After all, it doesn’t serve me, and can only open up more space for the projects that are to come!
Holly Clark is a freelance photographer based in Philadelphia, specializing in Event and Stock photography and the stories her clients bring to photograph. She writes about photography at Viewfinders, a female photography collaborative, and was a contributor to the popular photography blog Mortal Muses for three and a half years. Her clients include many non-profits in metro Philadelphia and Stocksy United; her personal work has also appeared in Flow magazine, Bella Grace, NPR’s The Salt Blog, philly.com, Eater Philly, Method Press and others. When she’s not out exploring the world with her expat husband, you can usually find her wandering the streets of her neighborhood Manayunk, with her expressive Aussie, Major.