A couple weeks ago I attended a weekend workshop with Lenswork editor Brooks Jensen in which he talked about friends and colleagues who have tens of thousands of archived photos, and are adding thousands more each year. One example was of a single photographer who had almost 2000 supposedly good photos from a single project from which he was trying, unsuccessfully, to edit down to a few dozen. I was dumbfounded by it all. Sure, digital photography advances allow us to capture hundreds of images a day, at no more of a cost than shooting one, but does that make it right? Not to me.
I may have discussed this before (and if so, I apologize), but I am quite frugal when it comes to making new images and, with the images I do make, I regularly edit on site, in camera. I bring home so few images, in fact, and then brutally edit again, that I have averaged only about 300 archived images each year for the past five or six years. Why so few? Because of the combination of the aforementioned frugality and brutal editing, for which I make no apologies. I am quite happy, thank you. Do I end up trashing images that, in the future, I may find worthy? No doubt. But as I have no intention of putting the camera down anytime soon, I will find others. For me, it’s about looking forward, not back.
I know many other photographers who save EVERYTHING….just in case. Sure, they edit out the obvious bad exposures, camera shakes or focus problems, but everything else is kept. Thus, their archives are enormous and heavy, and that is the exact reason I do what I do, in the way that I do it. You see, I find such massive archives of mediocre and rejected images to be a hindrance and a distraction, and an anchor which slows down future creativity….at least for me.
I switched from large format to digital photography because I wanted to be lighter and work faster. I did not switch so I could make more images. Sure, making more images increases the odds of getting lucky, but I am not a photographer to get lucky, I am a photographer because it is how I choose to artistically express myself. I would rather fail on my own accord than rely on luck for my success.
I get a lot of grief for how I work. I am sure I’ll get it now. But, I am fairly confident I am not alone and more than willing to put my feet the Internet flame for the sake of transparency. So if you are feeling overwhelmed by an increasingly massive photo archive, you might want to try being a bit more brutally honest with image editing and toss that anchor away.