sunday morning in my hotel room…..i just had breakfast with alex majoli and we were musing over our work here in seoul…his project was to shoot food…in an alex majoli kind of way of course…he leaves tomorrow, while i still have about three days of shooting….but, am i really already done??  do i have it?? is it "over" ?? mostly when photographers talk, we think we do not really "have it" ..yet…not quite anyway…that was our conversation over sunday morning coffee after saturday night shooting…

i was even thinking this morning that i might change my concept completely…i do have a new way of looking at this whole subject that popped into my head just yesterday….second thoughts…maybe too late, maybe not….but, can i do a completely different thing in three days and "throw out" almost two weeks of work??  i have no fear of doing that…hmmm…i went through all of my work….seems like less than it should be….some ok work,but only a few really nice photographs…after all, this work will be in a fine book with the collected work of 15 other Magnum photographers who have worked here in Korea during this last year…i am feeling the "weight"…

i suspect that all of us suffer with this dilemma one way or another….would more time help??  or, is enough enough??  there is definitely a point when the "law of diminishing returns" sets in….i find that i make interesting things at the very beginning of a project…taking advantage of early passion and the newness of things….and , then again , at the very end….when i realize, as i have realized this morning, that i should have "better"….i do not know what happens in the middle time zone for me….the "ok work" i think…

for me anyway, time is totally relative when shooting on some projects…..one great day of intensity is way better than a week of "almost" working….all of us need a reasonable amount of time to work…but, i do not have time as an excuse…i should have been able to capture the essence and texture  of "youth culture" in these two weeks….two more weeks would not help…..well, maybe a little, but not much…at least, not in the way that i have been doing it….

and "more time" is rarely an excuse for most photographers even though it is the most popular excuse of all…you always have enough time to do what you "can do"….not having enough time to do what you "can’t do" is a lame excuse for a career not moving forward…and besides, look at paul fusco’s "Funeral Train", three hours of shooting and Chien Chi-Chang’s "The Chain" about an hour and a half of work..both powerful books and exhibitions…

even book projects which take years to complete, are but a series of "short shoots"…..comparing a fast moving newspaper assignment to having weeks for a magazine story is the biggest "complaint mistake" of all…but a common one…that is, until the photographer suddenly has a "long time" to work and then realizes that whoever is paying for the "long time" has expectations requiring some very fast working days that just add up to a "long time" and with very high expectations for each and every day…..

sorry, i just drifted a bit, but it is all a related discussion…the rhetorical question for all of us is this: when do we know we are done with a project?   when is it "over"?   usually , for me, i  just  "know  it"…feel it in my bones….still there are some projects for  me that are never over….how about you?? how do you know???

i actually have more to add to this, but now i must go do some more work!! i will key off of your initial responses……

54 Responses to “over??”

  • I agree with you here, David. Although it sounds vague, I think you generally “know” when you’re finished. I also write, and ironically, tend to find it harder to “know” when I’m finished writing something. Not sure why this is the case, but perhaps with writing you always know you can go back and tweak things here and there. With photography, if you missed the shot you’re screwed, so better not to obsess about it!

  • This is a pivotal question, David, isn’t it? One of those that goes to the heart of who we are as photographers and as human beings… since that is what we bring into our projects: our humanity. I am the same way about my work, my passions, my studies, now as when I was in college, my relationships… In a powerful way I feel that I am not done with the project, but that the project is done with me. Sometimes that happens after a few hours, sometimes after many days or weeks… At that point I know that I either find a breakthrough or just staring at the same “picture” (no pun here) won’t help.

    I have a distinctive feeling for what it is that this is all about but can’t quite describe it. I know that at one point the passion will disappear and I’ll be left with just a task: at that point I just repeat myself, the steps become more mechanical, I drift away and my focus shifts to something else, I look without seeing… Then I know I’ll just do marginal work, from that point on.

    So, more time, right there and then won’t help me. I need to sit down with the images, my notes, maps, whatever scrap of memory I’m bringing back, and savor the imaginary “place” I just visited, reconstruct it in my mind in the imaginary locus that will be formed by the pictures in my brain. Some times, having more time later helps, but when I am done I am really done…


  • I can say nothing about finishing the project, because I still working and I have done nothing yet. Certainly every my assignments are past, events, photos from travels, but my own projects are still “on”. Some of my projects will never ended, because I do it to much time, and I’m changing to many things. Integrity is not compact. But I can’t say “I’ve done it”.
    Some of my projects I was thinking about I do it quickly, will take me very long time. I’m photographing my city. It is almost assignment because I do it for a book, but I always leaving, and I can not say “I started” even. Always is something “other”, “more important”.
    But I think I will know when my project will be “done”, like I know when something was began.
    And more time? I need time at all… no, rather more money because I still working on films. When I will have more films, more materials, I will finished many of my projects. The time will find itself…
    Possibilities is not excuse…

    Say hello your friends from magnum.


  • I was asking myself this exact question over the past days, how do you know… Especially if you have pictures in your head and haven’t taken them, because of lack of time, or skill (more probably, on my part), because you know more about the project than you can show, than you have frozen with your pictures, knowing that you could go deeper, that there’s more. How and when do you stop?

  • Allow me to disagree with you: time matters!
    Well, at least for me it did. I shot a long-term project about a place, a special village. My method was to walk around and shoot pictures. The longest period I spent there was a month. In that month, there were days when nothing happend, and days when all connected, people’s activities, the light, the weather… everything.
    So maybe you don’t get better, but you find situations that inspire you more.
    After I finished shooting I KNEW it was over.
    I also think that I could’ve done a better job, especially because the last time I went there, for the last few days of the assignment, I took better pictures then before (and for that I have to thank… well… you and you’re pictures; looking at your pictures made me think I should be more relaxed with my own work and the result was more pleasing for me).
    But I don’t think I should re-shoot the whole project, because:
    1 – even though I could have done better, the pictures are actually good enough (I think)
    2 – that was where I were as a photographer at that moment in time and if I got better that’s great, it means that my next project will be better.

  • quoting “the fifth element”, the movie:

    Priest: Hurry! The wall is closing!

    Mondoshawan: [lumbering towards the exit] Here is your mission: pass your knowledge on to the next, as it was passed on to you.
    Priest: I-I will do as you command, but please hurry! You still have time!

    Mondoshawan: Time not important. Only life important.

    [the Mondoshawan extends the key beyond the exit, and the Priest turns away in horror as the rest of him is crushed between the wall]


  • Hi David! my first posting: what a bless you are with this blog as you show all of us first your beautiful human being and then your photography. thanks a lot

  • Yes, i cant agree more… Of course you need time to do work work, but you also need deadlines. When you have no deadline is easy to say “well, i’ll do it tomorrow”. But when you know that you will have to do it in two weeks or one month, or whatever, you are “forced” to do it, and it makes your head work, and find inspiration and makes you move on.
    About the fact of you throwing away 2 weeks of work… go ahead and do it. In fact i think you are not throwing away two weeks of work, but those two weeks lead you to this new vision that you had… evolution :)

    Its always a pleasure to read your blog, and to think about the questions you ask us… Although i rarely comment them, it always make me think, and i like that ;)

    Good luck!

  • Hey david,

    interesting because I saw first hand the intensity you work with and I wonder how you can keep it up. Hell, going out with you over last weekend when we hit Hingdae for 3 straight nights made me exhausted and you shot really intensely. Admittedly I only saw a few of your shots on your laptop, but they were very good, but then again only you know if they meet your standard or not. A whole new way of looking at the concept? Sounds interesting.

  • It may be the nature of the photographer, of the artist, to really never be “finished.” Of course, an assignment must ultimately be turned in–whether you feel you’re finished or not. Deadlines.

    But handing over the negs or CD to an editor or customer, for me, does not often lead to a feeling of completion or closure. I usually think I could have done more. And maybe that’s why we do what we do. We go find another project. That residual feeling of *not quite having finished* carries over to the next assignment.

    “A photographer’s work is never done.”

    That’s not as daunting as it may first appear. I think I like it!

  • hello all…


    i do not think i said time did not matter…what i said was that “you”/”we” will create the time that matters…i just have gotten very tired of hearing photographers complain that if only they had been “given” more time , then they would somehow be “better” photographers….

    over and over again , i have seen students who totally changed their “being” in a one week workshop…and they walk in with five years worth of portfolio…they out shoot themselves in just a few days….why?? intensity, commitment, pure concentration, and really really “trying”….

    classic example happened to me just this afternoon…i went to a location i had never seen before….a swimming pool by the river….interesting spot that i wish i had seen much earlier..would have been a place to have visited many times (a) if i had known about it (b) if only i had known it was going to close in 20 minutes for the rest of the year!!! summer officially over!!! i saw a great scene….but the lifeguards said “closing in 5 minutes”…i had to move fast, think fast, react fast…i barely barely was able to work….no time…..when people see this picture they might think that i had two weeks when in fact i had two minutes….only had “time”to make three frames!!! most pictures come like this..

    so, a “long time” is just a bunch of little “short times”….and mainly what i want to get across is that you always have time to do “something”…maybe you do not have time to go to nepal for 6 months…but, you do have time to do an essay on the block where you live….think bruce davidson “East 100th Street”..think sally mann “Immediate Family”

    now, i have no more time to write tonight!!

    austin and giancarlo….

    good points all….yes, it is all like everything else in life….i mean, there is not enough time to live!!! so, we had all better get on with it!!!


    good question….no answer……personally, i just work as hard as i can….and then when i am “done”, i work a little harder..that does not erase the images in my head, but it does create some that were not there in the first place…then , at some point, you just stop…knowing that you will never be “finished” but that you just have to move on….


    now that was vivid visual imagery!!!


    thanks are to you….and do not be shy….it is your comments that make this forum “alive”


    it was fun hanging with you….you became an amazing manifestation of our community here….i do hope we will meet at least briefly again before i leave seoul…if not, well, it was terrific..please stay in touch and go work hard on the story we talked about…


    yes yes…we always should be willing to throw away hard work…particularly if it leads to “inspired work”….hard work is easy…inspired work is hard….


    you always have the very best attitude….and the best sense of humor….i think you are a happy man, even though you need more film!!!


    do not look at your assignment time as your real “time”….that is time spent earning a living which is totally important…but, give yourself the gift of time to work on what is important to you…i know you are doing that on the river…BUT enjoy the assignment time too…great learning experiences most of the time…and sometimes good bodies of work come out of “work”…elliott erwitt did virtually all of his “personal work” while on commercial assignments…all of us work in our own mysterious ways!!!

    cheers, david

  • david…I am working on my assignement for this great blog…not sure what my final project will look like…but I have TONS of fun…I was with a subject yesterday evening, and while I was shooting him, we shared many experiences we had in life (he is 64 years old, suffered a heart attack last year)….That is what photography is all about for me: sharing a portion of life with someone.

    On your question above, I belive that well after your assignment, you will still have pictures you would have wanted to shoot….an idea is never expored fully by one man, you are one piece of teh huge puzzle where each of us contribute to bring an additional rock to the human building…


    PS: nicole and i are in full preparation for our little treasure girl that is on teh way into this world this coming month….how was it for you to combine photography with being a parent?

  • One thing is, David, if having resolved the “time complaint” mantra, being stoic that the time you got is the time you got, period and no excuses, then the photographer is called by the editor, being told he has another few days, unexpectedly that is, is it what he secretly wished after all, or no thanks…I’ll relax instead?

    Also, and someone else can answer, i am not sure David, if your shoot digital nowadays. Are you?

    last, and take your time david, but let’s say your whole assignement is ruined (God forbid!), fire, theft, that sort of things, would you be able to use everything you learnt in the last 2 weeks, get the adrenaline pumping and make up in 3 or 4 extra days. Would there be a chance you may even top what was lost?

    best wishes for your last korean days.

  • Just a note, I see Rafal’s post answered the “digital or no” question.

  • Hey david,

    things are a bit crazy for me. I hope to meet you again before you leave though it sounds like you will be very busy. I will also be very busy, Im actually moving to a new home…and dont have a new home to move to yet LOL. So the next month will probably be mostly work and looking for an apartment. As far as shooting, Ill concentrate on shooting a story on the fountain near my home as that is really the only thing Ill have time to do. Once Im settled in a new place Ill get back to the TKD story. If I see you this week it wont be with any new prints..no time for that..but once I have something worth showing Ill give you a link to the project on flickr.

  • arie…

    i have made so many personal mistakes in life, BUT the one mistake i did not make was with my two sons…

    i took my family with me every chance i got…on assignments all over the world..my sons were cruising up the scrang river meeting head hunters in borneo when they were 4 and 9 yrs old respectively….later on, they became my “assistants” on various assignments….they grew up living my life with me and me with them….now they both make documentary films and my oldest son bryan and i have collaborated twice on natgeo tv documentaries…

    divorce was, however, in the wind for me…but having nothing to do with all the travel…my ex-wife sue was a major collaborator in making the family travel happen and in being a terrific “support system” for my early career…

    still, i have not been the “perfect dad”… but my sons,bryan and erin, and i are very close and i think they would agree that we so so enjoy our time together….fortunately, they are both much smarter than i, so i may have done part of my job right!!!


    no , of course, you take any extra time that is given you on assignment!!! all of us who do assignments for a living ask for more time ..that is a given…

    BUT you cannot define yourself as a photographer by the time “given” to you for an assignment…that is my only point…

    if you submit to that excuse, than you will quickly join the ranks of so many photographers out there in the “cynical club” who blame someone else for their lack of growth…big big mistake….

    to answer your other question…i have always lived in fear of just that scenario….i do not know what i would do…it would be very difficult to re-create that original spontaneity and passion….but maybe??? actually, i just do not want to find out!!!

    what i am going to do right now though, now that you brought it up, is to back up my work one more time on another hard drive!!!!


    sounds like we are both busy..moving takes everything….give me a call though, maybe we will have time for a goodbye coffee or whatever…if not, i will await your work on flickr….

    ciao, david

  • Ofcourse, I would like a final coffee with you..it should be possible. The fountain thing I was hoping to make a year long project…but Ill be moving away far from it most likely so that idea is shattered..damn LOL

  • It’s so much easier with baking – if a toothpick comes out dry when stuck in the middle of the item in question, it’s done.

    This new piece I just shot ispired by your project, I had exactly 2 days..and so now going through the negs I am of course looking for all those images I almost took, or that I took with my mind but not withthe camera. I kept checking in with myself as I was shooting, aware I hadn’t much time..asking myself if I was making good decisions, so as not to waste that precious time. But still, there are all those gaps of what I didn’t actually take..one of the problems of being conservative with film when paying out of pocket.

    I once heard someone say not to edit yourself in the creative moment. To save the editing for later, and I think I have yet to learn this..I over edit in my mind and it’s a terrible waste of time assuming that I will know how something will look on film.

    I keep thinking I should go back again next year and shoot it again, or shoot another side of the piece now to add and round out and make it done. But really, would that make it any more ‘done’, or just different?

  • Hi David,
    Your post resonated with me and my experiences, so I would imagine that wondering if you’re getting “the” story is a universal issue. I find myself rewriting and replanning every night as I edit when I’m working on a timeline.

    When I was shooting the Pine Ridge story, I went back twice, finally satisfied that I had what I wanted, and the gist of the story changed while I was there. There were definitely periods of panic, though. I actually ended up with three stories all interconnected. Now, I just have to get it published where it can do some good.

    I went to visit my mom out in Seattle a couple weeks ago and planned to shoot the assignment for this blog with her. When I got there, though, circumstances were different than I had imagined. It took some quick rethinking to figure out how and what to shoot.

    It’s kind of like walking into a classroom and discovering that none of the students is prepared for what you have in mind to do that day.(A challenge I actually used to like.)

    It’s also like working in any kind of art medium and being able to destroy your masterpiece, knowing you can make something better.

    Meanwhile, thank you for your continued sharing of your thoughts while/about working.


  • David,

    When thinking about the time you might spend shooting a story, how do you compensate for the amount of time you might need to gain access to the subject? And how about giving the subjects time to get comfortable having a stranger around taking photos of their lives?


  • David wrote:

    ‘but, can i do a completely different thing in three days and “throw out” almost two weeks of work?? i have no fear of doing that.’

    Nobody has picked up on this yet. Being able to abandon two weeks’ worth of work–without fear–is one of the hardest lessons for any creative person to learn. There are advertisements in the subway for an art school in New York that say (despite the flawed grammar), “How bad do you want to be good?” Most people who want to be good draw the line at chucking recently completed hard-won projects. Getting too attached to your own work can be a great impediment to your growth and development. But if you want to be good badly enough, you might have to “throw out” something that’s merely acceptable on the chance that you can produce something excellent.

  • Dear Mr.Harvey,
    My name is Ritesh. Am a newspaper photographer based in Bombay, India with the Hindustan Times. I have been a big fan of your work and I must say it is a pleasure to read your blog. Very Very Inspiring!!! My colleagues and I, would really like it if you would speak to us someday, if you ever come down to our city. It would be an honour to listen to you in person!

  • All these great responses…it pays to ask a good question Michael!

    Preston is right about David’s courage to change directions…and has been encouraging me to do this for some time (I’m working on it Preston!) Hope I’m not changing the direction of the original question too much by asking…as I strive to improve as a photographer the answer to the question “do I have it?” changes…what I “had” and was happy with a couple of years ago I can barely look at now. We’ve been discussing whether or not we have completed the single assignment but what happens to completed assignments as we change directions? Just learn from them and move on? What does it take to be able to continue a personal project for years and years without outgrowing the old work or is that just the nature of the beast? I guess I’m also asking about the fine line between satisfaction and complacency, dissatisfaction and the drive to grow. Thanks.

  • Hello Cathy,

    In large part the personality plays a large role in the way one assesses previous work and what we are going to do with it (keep, show, substract, refine, destroy…).

    yet, or because of that, isn’t it important to have the eye and ears of trusted others before making decisions that may reflect on that personality, rather than the quality/message of the work involved, no?

  • Hi David and freinds
    Thats another great question. I personally don’t know if I am qualified to weigh in on this one, considering that I have never really been givin an important assignment that kind of lets you set the parameters and logistics. But as far as personal wrk, well I guess I get attached to my projects. They are awfully personal. The work I choose to do somehow relates to were I am at mentally, and physically, and its a reflection of what I am interested in at that period of time.
    I think of people in the past, like Atget, who really did not deviate from his general style and equipment, or look, but developed interesting branches from the main body of his work. He just kept going.
    I think for me its continuous, its just a matter of being in the right state of mind. I have a problem doing things because I feel as though I ought to. Hey I realize we have to pay the bills, but w/ photography I just dont want anybody governing me. Crappy dishwasher jobs? No problem! Photography, thats mine, take it or leave it!
    So I guess I will kind of leave it open. If I feel like going back or continuing I will. But most importantly for me is genuine energy. There can be no faking, its got to be heart felt.

  • i just read that the average national geographic photographer on assignment shoots anywhere from 300 to 400 rolls of film. According to said article average assignment is between 1 & 4 months. For longer assignments it’s not uncommon to expose 1000 rolls of film. Wow ; that’s alot of exposures i think also super costly. f.y.i. all info from http://www.nationalgeographic.com

    once i was reading an interview with William Eggleston & he was speaking about approach. He mentioned that he didn’t tend to expose heaps of film. His objective was purely instinctive & intuitive almost always taking only one shot of said subject. Although it should be mentioned that Eggleston approached fotographie as a hobby rather than work.

    David- I’m in the market to buy a new 35mm camera as mine was stolen. I have since came upon a beautiful mint leica M3 with the 50mm f2 Summicron macro for $1250. Any thoughts or
    observations in regards to this system ?

    BTW- last night i did a google search to find any info. regarding
    davids first book; “Tell it Like it Is.” Based on his experience living with an african american family in rural Virginia as a young
    man. Difficult to find any info on this project however i unearthed a fair amount of video footage while david was on assignment in Cuba. I highly recommend anyone that’s interested in how a true professional operates in the field to take
    a close look at these videos//sound bites..

    There is alot to be said for less is more..

  • hello all….


    one of the things i learned (eventually) was the simple fact that it is what you “do have” that is important…not what you do not have…nobody knows what you do not have!!! that is why i usually work with just one lens for example..to keep my life simple….nobody knows that i do not have long lens shots!! nobody knows what i missed!! including me….lay ten good pictures down on the table and nobody will question one single thing….


    yes, having a plan of some kind is probably a good idea…but serendipity always takes you even further…


    yes yes…you have to be willing to forget “hard work” and “mud, blood , sweat and tears” and chuck it… photographers often make the mistake of “falling in love” with their portfolios or of recent work….it is just natural i suppose….but you really have to “hard ball” your work…believe in it of course when you are “on it”..but be willing to admit it when it just does not work….


    India will be in my near future….probably in the spring…please stay in touch and perhaps we will meet….i have already personally met quite a few people i “met” in this forum….i hope you will soon be one of them…


    i know exactly what you mean…but, another interesting thing can happen….you like the work, then you hate the work, then years go by and you like the work again!!! so,you should always compile and save….build a fence around a body of work….perhaps dislike it…but build that fence anyway…then move on….mostly life goes in a circle i think….you may meet yourself coming around the corner!!!


    good question….it is probably a good idea to be able to “trust” at least one other person with opinions regarding your edits, layouts etc…getting too many opinions is probably not a good idea…

    however, one of the greats, koudelka, gets many opinions from colleagues…others just lay the book down on the table…take it or leave it….

    some photographers are better editing their own work than others….editing is an art unto itself…..eggleston reportedly (i do not know this for sure) showed up at the Museum of Modern Art in his early years with a suitcase filled with slides…john szarkowsky “created” eggleston with powerful editing….

    i personally seek few, if any, opinions….if i am going to make a “mistake” in a direction , i want it to be my own mistake….i do , however, totally acknowledge eventually anyway my errors in judgment….but, “regret” is not a word i ever use….besides, mistakes are often really interesting…there is always a reason for a “mistake”…and, in the long run, maybe the “mistake” is the “art”????

    w.robert ….

    i totally loved your comment for one reason…i have always told myself all these years that i was totally willing to bartend, bag groceries, sleep on the floor, hitchhike, open a lemonade stand or whatever….

    this thought gives me the ultimate freedom…nobody can touch me if i am willing to “fly low”….dependency on material possessions for example, can lead to dependency on all the wrong people or the wrong institution or just the wrong environment…

    having said this, i seriously enjoy making editors pleased with what i do..i work really hard to this end…i am never arrogant…i listen carefully to what they have to say…but i have always tried to give them much more than what they asked for…give them what they need….show them sincerely i know what they need…and then, just make them even happier by showing them something that was even better than what they expected or originally wanted!!! never never never make anyone “lose face”…show respect…then do your thing!!!

    and then and then….be ready at all times to wash dishes for a living!!!


    i wrote you a private email regarding equipment…do you not have?? anyway, i am happy to answer tech stuff, but want to keep this forum essentially tech free…thanks for understanding…

    “Tell It Like It Is” is not available anywhere….there are only 4 known copies in existence…bruce davidson wants me to re-publish and i may ….i was in grad school when that book was published…we got a good exhibition, but sold few books and i think boxes of books just got “dumped”…sad but true….

    i rarely shoot much film/digi on assignment for natgeo…much less than most….never did reach anywhere near the 1,000 roll mark….assignments are much shorter these days even at National Geographic…3-4 weeks is closer to the average i think ….

    my last cowboys in mexico piece (august issue) was basically shot in a day and a half with two days of research!!! total time…four days….

    i honestly do not know how many days i actually shot on hip hop(but the accountants know!!)…the story was spread out over a year and a half and i traveled to several countries and it was very expensive…i never counted the number of “frames” but pictures were few and far between..i mean, you cannot go out the front door and find “hip hop”…everything was “picture by appointment” (except for the serendipity of the south bronx) and is the most difficult way to shoot for me….my hip hop book “Living Proof” only has 50 photographs…

    there are two films out there about me working in cuba…i am not sure which one you saw…i keep meaning to put a film link here with these films and the films of others…

    stay on my case!!! i will get it done by mid -septmeber

  • Hi David, I hope you are doing well and are making the most of your Korean trip… I have not posted any comments recently but do continue to check regularly what you are up to…. I did complete my Reds fans work eventually, just did a couple of books using Shutterfly for my own satisfaction….not the best quality but at least something to hold on to and hopefully one day a more serious publishing….As you say, sometimes, you know when it is over and that’s how I felt. I have stopped this topic back in March…I sort of had enough and wanted to move on to something else…. I have been re-energized back from family vacations in France by your challenge to shoot something over the summer. I did not go anywhere but actually tried last couple of week-ends to get around the ghetto in Cincinnati, follow a few kids around….Still early but I hope I will show you what I am up to early September when you tell us where to post our work… I think I am getting clearer and clearer on what I want to show and hopefully progressing on more “authorship”… Hope you will like it. Cheers, Eric

  • Thanks David, for being so honest and communicative. That is extremely cool! Loved your response, thats learning for me. Hey dishes aint that bad.
    Anyway, funny about the pool shots. Murphy’s Law.

  • So many great comments above, I’m not sure if what I have to say really adds anything, but…

    To answer your question David, I’m “done” with a subject or idea when it no longer inspires me to capture a frame. So I never really know if I’m done, because inspiration comes when it comes, if at all, and only if my mind and eyes are open to it.

    I’m reassured by your comments above regarding the (small) fraction time during which the “magic” happens. I’ve been working/playing for your assignment to us to the tune of several hundred frames since you announced it, but the only decent shots I have were shot over about 15-20 minutes in 2 evenings.

    It was a priviledge for me to see into these images for a fleeting few moments. I hope my very limited skill was sufficient to do justice to the light…

  • A little OT, but I spotted this while looking up “Living Proof” on amazon.co.uk:

    “HARVEY is the author of the richly praised sequence of ten Charlie Resnick novels, the first of which, Lonely Hearts, was named by The Times as one of the ‘100 Best Crime Novels of the Century’. In 2004 William Heinemann published Flesh and Blood, the first novel featuring retired Detective Inspector Frank Elder which won the CWA Silver Dagger in 2004. He is also a poet, dramatist and occasional broadcaster.”

    I’m impressed by your double life.

    I hope you feel done, or done it justice, when you hit the plane.

    Do you ever get the feeling on assignment of just wanting to “cash in your chips” and get the photos home? How do you react? What do you do next?

  • David,

    I have seen the workshops photos that you have done and the all of than are always quite good and intense – jus like you commented about time is relative. One week or two, and there you go: the students have all this material to show us! But this in part concerns about equipament. I mean, to do the photos, edit and show, you need to be fast and I guess that almost everyone is going digital. I´m not going to ask about this discussion about “digital versus analogic” (which doesn´t exist anymore who really matter and like to photograph) but ask you about something more practical – I mostly like to shot with Leica M or a small digital point-and-shot. Both allow me to be discrete, silent and non-obritusive. However, I´m thinking on have a SRL digial and these now-a-days models looks so much big and obritusive – just like an analogic medium-format. In your experience, which camera are you using (I noticed that most photos that you share here are digital)? Sorry for such a technical questions, but all the love and fun about photography I couldn´t not ask, because you have yet gave us all your answers here…

  • hi everyone,

    it’s interesting that this post on time should come up now. i had an short notice assignment on friday to photograph an executive for a magazine. i had about half an hour to shoot and in the end the best pictures came from the last five minutes. this type of shoot makes me nervous, the one on one thing, the subject looking right AT ME. it all adds to the pressure cooker feeling which may, possibly, be eased by having more time, but i think that this can make me (us) lazy. i think that it’s vital to be put under the sort of pressure that a lack of time can create – it is invaluable training, it helps to develop fast thinking, the sharpening of instincts, judgement and character – it helps us grow. if i had have screwed up it would have been my fault, my inability to do the job. i guess its like the old cliche goes – ‘ a bad workman blame his tools’, or in this case a lack of time.

    hey david, any plans on visiting london again soon?



  • Maurice- FYI, Magnum photographers Alex Webb and Alex Majoli shoot with film, and digital point-and-shoot, respectively.

  • For me a project is over when I stop feeling the Thing – the Thing that made me want to shoot the project to begin with.

  • time is a blind guide…

    i’d hoped and thought that one of the people with whom I’d been spending time with photographing and listening to, following around and watching as she and her friend negotiated their life here, then without warning, she disappeared….

    for me a project has never ended for all of my photographs and all of the stories are, more or less, the same: the listening to of stories and how to document this vanishing/vanquishing life….

    i actually have never known when something ends (whether that is a photo story, or essay or poem) for often times i return to things, i relook at pictures and poems or, once i thought that’ can be done again, i tried my best, time passes, and it returns, like whisper of light in a dream, and it all begins again…

    everything is always unfinished, always, its in the swallowing of that, sometimes with joy sometimes with exhaustion, that sometimes it begins to make sense…

    the swerve and curve of witnessing…

    nothing is ever finished, but often we stop or it stops us, sometimes gently sometimes cold…..

    twists of braided sticks of time….


  • Bob, simply beautiful ….

  • David- thanks for the thoughtful response as always. adding video or sound clips to this blog would be amazing & educational. for some time i have wanted to do this with my blog however my computer skills leave much to be desired. i love the folks over @ google just the other day i went to upload pictures & i noticed a new icon their. seems as though blogspot.com-google is expanding there horizons as now i can upload videos all for free. it’s true the best things in life are free..

    oh; i never did receive your e-mail in regards to photo equipment unfortunately. please send to me once again at your leisure. here is my contact info r.libertypictures@gmail.com

    please keep us informed if at some point you decide to republish your book; “Tell it like it Is.” i would love to buy a copy for myself. thank you bruce davidson for encouraging david to revisit the past. also david would you be so kind as to possibly do a individual post about that piece of your life with photos.
    like how you made arrangements living with the family etc.. what inspired you to do as such..etc. whoa; maybe i’m asking for the moon and stars however dreams sometimes come true..

    truly; robert john wiedenfeld

  • maurice…

    i will answer in detail when i get back to new york tomorrow…right now a bit rushed…sorry…but some of the photos i publish here (the older ones) are film and the “work in progress” are digi


    i already did a piece on “Tell It Like It Is” here…at least i think i did!! check under “work in progress” from sometime in the spring….i do not even have time to check myself right now….back soonest..

  • andrew….

    sorry, i missed your comment first time around….

    well, the “access” is the most important part of the time spent on an essay….if everything were on a “stage” and all i had to do was make photographs, i might “finish” in no time…

    ‘but what would i be “finished” with???

    getting involved with the subject and having the subjects allow me into their space, even if only for seconds, is what this type of work is all about….

    interestingly, the “struggle” to get “in” is all part of the learning….and the learning is what is necessary to finally bring something to either journalistic or artistic finality….

    patience is required…..beyond all belief….but the rewards , both humanistic and photographic, will fill your life….

  • neil….

    sometimes i am anxious to get home….but, often, as now, i am very sad to leave….i have really bonded with some of my Korean friends here…a very special relationship….

    i rarely take just “an assignment”….there is almost always a personal connection of some kind….in the past, i would sometimes take an assignment that did not have this “connection”…even then, i would learn something that i did not know i wanted to learn!!! but, first choice….work that matters, work that you care about…

    what next??? wow..too much….but too much fun too….

    before Christmas is this:

    1.your assignments for this forum..and seeking funding for you to work…full time job

    2. two workshops at my home in new york..another full time job

    3. “Living Proof” hip hop book out in the fall…much to do…exhibits, book signings etc etc…

    4. workshops in mexico and maybe bangkok

    5. book layout to do for “Off For a Family Drive”….next book (i think)..i will do this along with my students in loft workshop…

    6. tomorrow to new york….saturday to france for a short assignment on the TGV train…then perpignan for a few days (portfolio reviews)..

    other than the above, not much going on….Merry Christmas!!!

    cheers, david

  • Hello David,

    If I end up missing you, I hope you have a safe trip back. I’m lacking a mobile here in Seoul, so reaching you seems to be tricky. If you have time this evening, perhaps we can meet. I’m in the midst of packing up my apartment for the move to Xi’an tomorrow evening, but I can make some time, no problem.

    Speak Later,


  • That’s truly inspirational that the Mexico cowboys piece came together that swiftly. There will be no more ‘not enough time’ excuses from me. (maybe not enough grace though on some days!)

  • A possible workshop in Bangkok??? Please keep us up to date on this–I live in Bangkok and would give my left ear to take part–if possible!


  • the workshop in bangkok is already being advertised online:


  • Brotherman,
    I picked up the latest NG at the Newsstand at the Ord River Roadhouse in Kunanurra…You cannot beat guys with hats on horses!
    The answer to the question is you are in Kunanurra on Tuesday and you have to be in Darwin on Wednsday to shoot the Prime Minister,Tuesday is when you are finished.
    Cheers Glenn!

  • nick….

    hmmmm, that is not supposed to be up yet!!!!


    you are right…there is nothing better than a cowboy hat!!!

    where have you been?? thought i lost you….

    yup, i know the newspaper drill…

    good on you…


  • i saw it posted on rangefinderforum.com

  • David- all apologies i stand corrected. “Tell it Like It;” is under
    work in progress and was posted in the spring as you mentioned.
    U did mention that you may expound on that post in the future.

    Thought it was interesting how that story came to be. Looking forward to any new developments regarding your 1st book sold
    for $2 dollars all benefits straight to the baptist church. Community
    re-development efforts…as you say this area in Virginia is the same virtually as you witnessed years ago. HUMANITARIAN DAH !!

  • Dave, I am just comming off a wild month travelling across the wild north ,from Nuhulunbuy to Alice springs to Kakadu to The Kimberleys.
    Sometimes I have to pinch myself that I’m being paid to go to these places and take photo’s,unbelievable!!
    Just a thought about the “Assignment” as you picked the busiest month I’ve had , would work shot for myself “Off Assignment” be eligible?
    There’s a cowboy hat greeting from Brunette Downs for you on my web site!
    All the Best , Glenn

  • Coming back here to read again..

    “nobody knows what i missed!! including me…”

    I think that’s my (one of them) problem I have, I DO know what I missed, I DO know what could be and what is not (talking about longterm projects), and for now I haven’t learnt to not let it bother me. Gotta get over it. Good to see that it also happens to others :)

  • Hey David,

    I like the question and line of this thread as it’s one that has had me thinking a lot since I’ve started to really try and do ‘stories’ or ‘features’. I think the whole concept of time for a project varies tremendously. You mentioned in a reply that some students on your workshops produced their best work from one week of intense shooting, compared to a year or two previously…I was one of them! Some people need a time frame, a deadline, someone telling them X needs to be done by this or that time. Some people work better if they have no time frame. It’s got to be about the own photographers feeling.

    Now that point I just stated I think should be for your personal work. You obviously can’t turn round to a client and say ‘hey, I’m an artist, I need time to create’…you have to do the job. I wanted to tell you I did my first proper assignment for the German newspaper Die Ziet here in Beijing last month. Now we had a real tight time frame. Along with a 5-day general ‘portait of Beijing’ I did, they also wanted about 10 portraits of various people and in most cases I had about 5-10 minutes to come up with a portrait worthy of going in a national paper for each. I really liked the pressure of having to produce in a tight timeframe. Thankfully they liked what I did.

    Also (this is turning into a longer than intended post!), I’ve just literally got back from a week trip to the deserts of western China. I had 10 days completely free, so decided to do a small project in those 10 days, with the 10 days being my time frame. It was completely my own personal work but I thought it would be good to give myself a mock assignment, pretend someone had sent me there to do it. Well, the results I shall post in/on DR…I think I did okay, but I have to edit first, so we shall see!

    Last point. Wasn’t it you David who said somewhere that if you’re on your way to the airport having ‘finished’ an assignment and you’re looking out the window and you’re still seeing pictures then it’s a sign you’re onto something good?


  • wow.. you will be here in India ?? I am quite excited.. please inform me .. I will be waiting to meet you too … anyway, i am always keeping a track of this very fantastic and inspirational blog.

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