I’m sure many people have heard this phrase before, especially when it comes to photography: “The Personal Photography Project”. When you’ve been in the photographic field for a number of years, you sometimes find yourself repeating similar creative patterns with success. While this is good, it sometimes walls you in. You can become complacent and cease to explore new ideas.
Pursuing a personal photography project sometimes helps you chip away at those walls and opens new doors to something new and unexpected. This may also solidify a particular new stylistic direction you didn’t expect to travel. I went through this myself a few years back. I’d always had an affinity towards motorized machinery from my early years of living in Southern California. I was brought up in the automotive industry and spinning wrenches on anything motorized came easily for me. I was influenced by this for many years. I enjoyed owning and restoring classic cars since my high school days and still do. I also find myself photographing them on occasion at local car shows.
Being born in here I was also awakened to the natural beauty that surrounds us in California as well. From the ocean to the high Sierra Nevada mountains, we’re fortunate to have it all. I’ve explored and photographed this state and its natural beauty from every corner multitude of times. We also escort small groups to these special locations in California and internationally through our business, Jansen Photo Expeditions and have taught many how to capture its beauty through the lens.
As a lot of residents of our amazing state, the California outdoor lifestyle revolves around hiking, backpacking, biking, skiing, kayaking, surfing, and paddleboarding. There’s a active the hot rod and motorcycle culture here as well. On top of all this, another popular pass time is general aviation. The fact that there are over 150 public airports in the state of California is quite astounding to me. At any given time, there are literally hundreds of small aircraft flying about. These planes, for the most part, are of relatively modern design, but we see the vintage aircraft as well. By vintage, I’m referring to classic military planes collected and restored to their original flying condition.
Classic aviation leads us back to the personal project. Locally, we have a small general aviation airport near our home in Camarillo, CA. It caters to a small group of vintage aircraft pilots. Each summer, they hold a vintage aircraft air show. I’ve always dropped in to experience the sites and sounds. They always have amazing World War II warbirds on display and it is always a thrill to be so close to these planes as they fire up their engines.
Being a photographer, I always take my camera along to take a few fun shots. Being well entrenched in landscape photography and the big wide scenery, I never had an interest in hauling long telephoto lenses to these events to shoot aerial displays. I would always bring along my super wide lens and a tripod and spend my day shooting comfortably, not hauling a lot of gear. I would shoot close up to showcase the mechanical beauty of those warbirds on static display before the airshow began. My subjects would include the classic engines and the details of their hammered aluminum and riveted aircraft bodies. Their shapes and forms harkened back to my early love of machines with their high contrast and rutty detail.
One particular airshow stands out that was a turning point for me. To explain, California’s summer skies air mostly blue bell clear. On this one occasion, we had a strong summer monsoon coming up from Mexico. We normally get this in late summer, but this year it came in a bit early. With this late August, monsoon comes some of the most interesting cloud formations we see all year long.
All this provided great natural backdrops to my pre-visioned concept up close tight compositions. One particular capture pushed a compelling story to a new level of interest for me. That would be my first popular photo mural “Hero”. By working the monsoon clouds into the photo from an extremely low and wide angle, this conveyed the feeling of flight.
The success of this one particular photograph opened up an idea for a Special Photography Project. This turned quickly into one of my most successful fine art projects to date.
I spent the next few years watching the weather forecasts and attending vintage airshows. Each year expanding my portfolio to reflect the same theme. I also found that sepia tone enhanced that classic feel. This became my Special Photography Project for a number of years. It was a nice break away from my regular photographic work and teaching our photography workshops.
On one particular day, after building my portfolio, I had the idea of approaching the new owner of a local Cafe located at the Camarillo airport. My wife and I always had Sunday breakfast there. The Eggs Benedict was great! We were sitting at the bar and I asked to speak to the new owner, as I noticed the walls were covered with some cheap looking aircraft wall murals and they were peeling away.
I had the foresight to have my first vintage photo printed on a small business card. I handed him that card, and he was thrilled. He asked me how big could I enlarge my photograph and was interested in doing something on his Cafe walls. The sepia color and the style in which I photographed it was great for the Cafe and really worked with his style and vision for his establishment!
The installation went great followed by 7 more of my classic large-scale aviation murals in the Way Point Cafe for the public to see and enjoy on permanent display. I also have permanent landscape and Vintage aviation murals at the Santa Maria airport, and in many corporate and private collections.
All said, If you’re in a photographic rut, and have an idea hidden deep that inspires you away from your normal routine of the photographic process, don’t be afraid to take a leap in some unexpected direction. You never know where that Personal Photography Project will take you!
All the best,