by T.C. Baker
Victoria Advocate
Staff Photographer

"Projects? We don't need no stinkin' projects..."

This was the topic of a program I presented during the NPPA's 2001 national convention in Memphis. Before you email me asking me anything about it let me just say this. If you attended this class back in June 2001, please accept my apologies. I AM NO AUTHORITY ON THIS SUBJECT!!! They forgot to include that in the seminar brochure.

It all started a couple of years ago when Joe Cavarretta, who was then with San Antonio Express-News, reviewed my portfolio.

Joe critiqued my portfolio with a talented eye, noting that I indeed had a couple of photos that were worthy of being presented to someone looking to hire a photographer just past entry level.

No, I didn't cry! It wasn't like that. I was actually hoping to hear something along those lines, a nice kick in the butt. I needed some inspiration. But then he asked, "Where is your project?"

"Project," I asked? It took only a moment for him to explain. I am a community photojournalist like every other photojournalist. My community is what most people consider a community. Photographers working for larger metros have a much larger community, often including the entire world.

Joe, as well as other reviewers later, wanted to see a personal project that meant something to me and dealt with my community.

Having never heard this talk of a personal project, I set out to find out just how many editors wanted to see a project and just what the hell constituted a project. Joe had explained it enough so that I understood what he was talking about. But being of the journalistic mindset, I had to verify the information I had just been given. OK, OK, so I was looking for a way out of it (reality check from my wife).

With some help from the NPPA national office (I am a board member so don't think they just give out this type of info to anyone) I emailed 795 photo editors, directors of photography, chief photographers, etc. asking them a few simple questions:
Do you expect to see a project in a portfolio?
How important is the project in your hiring decision?
What do you consider a project?
Is it a project if it hasn't been published?"

As you can imagine, if you have ever seen a group of photographers judge a contest, the answers varied from one extreme to the other. There was however a very common ground with many editors saying the same things.

Most replies did want to see some sort of project. The subject matter didn't have to be grim/death or gloomy. They all pretty much just wanted to see that the photographer was capable of thinking outside of work and to see that photographer through the project.

Nearly all agreed that the work didn't have to be published.

The main idea that came across was that a project is more than just a multiple feature. A project should show a personal interest/issue of the photographer. Not your habits, although there have been some good projects on alcoholism/drug abuse, etc.

Although it has taken me over a year to start on a project that I feel might go somewhere, I have started. Granted, I am looking past the scope of the publication I work for as a staff photographer. It is however, something that I have grown to care for.

My wife manages a local podiatric office. This is where the subject of my project came from.

The Texas Podiatric Medical Foundation recently kicked off Niños de la Frontera. This is a medical mission reaching to the indigent children of Reynosa, Mexico. Volunteer doctors have committed to approximately 30 weeks at a clinic in Reynosa to help save these children's "feet for the future."

I traveled down to Reynosa in February with the group. I don't know exactly what I was expecting, but I didn't get it in four rolls of film. This is a good thing, (I think) because it has forced me to realize that this project is not one I can pull off by committing a weekend every now and again. It is going to take heaps of personal time.

All photos ©2002 Timothy C. Baker

I am now working on a long-term personal project. (credit = © 2002 Timothy C. Baker)

Timothy C. "T.C." Baker Victoria, TX (T.C. is a Staff Photographer for the Victoria Advocate in Victoria, Texas. The Ninos project T.C. is working on is a personal project he is pursuing on his own time with no commitments to the Advocate.)

T.C. Baker

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