By Roger (19 April 2015)
We've discussed personal projects a few times. They can be fun, inspirational, and help you learn new techniques. If you shoot for others, personal projects give you time for just you, instead of worrying about what your client will think about your experimentation. If you search the internet, you'll finds lots of articles extolling the virtues of personal projects and subject ideas to consider.
But how do you know when a personal project is complete? Shouldn't there be some marker that, once passed, let's you know to stop and move on to something new? You won't find nearly as many answers to this question. For some projects, there are logical places to stop, but, since this is a personal project, the end is up to you.
You may find that you've run out of new inspiration or you want to try something new. Keep in mind that you can be working on more than one project at one time. You may take a break for a while and re-start, again, later. Like pretty much everything else in photography, we don't want to default to “Rules.”
For the past few years, I've been following the Civil War Sesquicentennial as a personal project. It has all the stuff I love: history; challenging conditions; and people photography. I've come to a logical conclusion to that project since the major re-enactments of events from 150 years ago came to an end, last weekend, in Appomattox, Virginia.
Robert E. Lee's surrender of the Army of Virginia came on Palm Sunday, April 9, 1865, to U.S. Grant, inside the McLean House. On that day, in their minds, the war was over. Grant gave Lee's army generous terms on their parole, and the rebel troops vowed to end their struggle and go home. As with so much of this war, they were wrong, and it took more than four years longer to completely end the hostilities. And, as late as 1869, now President Grant was faced with the murderous intimidation of black Americans in the South. He didn't end military rule in the South until 1871. Enough history for now.
The myth of the end of hostilities after the Appomattox surrender was the theme during the re-enactment. I was there to make photographs, not argue the historical accuracy of the event portrayal. The National Park Service and thousands of re-enactors put on a good show, despite the rainy weather during the first couple of days. The re-enactors were doing their best to display the proper attitudes for their respective side. The rebels were downcast and sullen in their camps, waiting to participate in the surrender events.
I was there for two days, so I caught the end of the rain on Friday for the foggy photos of Lee, above, and the clear skies of Saturday, when I shot the portrait of Grant. It gave me lots of different looks for the last big re-enactment.
So, my Civil War Sesquicentennial project has come to an end. It started with a chance visit to Antietam, when I had a free weekend. I never planned to do this. Sometimes, that's how personal projects start; you just find something that grabs and holds your interest.
I've learned many lessons. I started concentrating on the battle re-enactments and transitioned to focusing on the people involved in these events. This project has introduced me to many new folks asking for copies of my photos. These are folks I would have never met if I wasn't out there having fun with my camera.
Although this project has ended, I'll probably keep going to some of these events. They won't all end after these sesquicentennial celebrations. And there are many more events that feature re-enactors portraying historical characters. I may need to keep charging forward, like George Custer. Hopefully, I won't come to the same end. Have some fun.