It's difficult to measure progress as a photographer. The whole idea of becoming "better" once one masters the technical aspect is a murky path with many dead-ends and no end point. I don't think it happens in the actual act of photography, when one raises the camera. By then, decisions have already been made about where you're standing and where you're going to point the camera. It's the accumulated knowledge, life experience, aesthetic judgements and maybe what you had for breakfast that day that brought you to that spot and it's this awareness (minus the breakfast part) that is going to guide the photo that you take.
With that thought, I've been looking through my assignments and personal projects from this year and thinking about where I've made steps forward, and where there has perhaps been a wrong turn made, or simple a bit of idling in place. I'm not sure the details of the conclusions I reached are that important, but I do hope the larger realizations might be helpful.
First, it took much too long for me to realize this personally, but the most damaging idea for a photographer is following a preconceived notions of the kind of photographer one is "supposed to be". This trap that imposes limits and a rigid framework on your work. Truth is, on a basic level we all get to choose what kind of photographs to make, it's completely our choice and our responsibility to figure out what we want to say. While external influences exist, those best, most important photos are the ones that reflect upon the photographer himself in an intimate, thoughtful way. Also, I get to shoot for myself, even on assignment, and the satisfaction of a job well done needs to come from within, not from others. As for looking at my own progress, I see it most infused in the assignments where I let go of some of my own faulty framework of what a photograph should be and use the time to try to discover something new I hadn't seen before.
Included here are 15 photographs that I'm happy about from 2010. I'm deeply thankful for the editors at publications like The Atlantic, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg Markets, Washingtonian, Guardian Weekend, Smithsonian and Forbes who have entrusted me with work and encouraged finding creative, new approaches to stories and portraits.
I'm also thankful for the individuals who let me into their homes, or just gave me a few minutes of undivided attention for conversation and photos. It feels just plain lucky that I got to meet people like Chris Hitchens, Elizabeth Warren, Ken Feinberg and Anas Aremeyaw Anas in the course of my work.
I'm also thankful to have my work recognized in American Photography 26, FotoWeek DC, Mamiya and American Photo magazine for recognizing my work. And to Mike Davis, for fine-tuned guidance and softly spoken profound thoughts about photography.
Here's to a productive new year, moving ever forward down this path.