The artist’s world is limitless. It can be found anywhere, far from where he lives or a few feet away. It is always on his doorstep.

— Paul Strand

In my photography journey (and in general), I have been as much a resister as I have been a creative embracer. Some of this simply originates from who I am – an observer first, then a doer. I have never been the first one to jump into new technology or feel the need to upgrade my gear every time a new camera is announced. With just about anything, I wait, I watch, I listen and then decide one way or another whether I need the next and newest of anything. If something is working for me, I don’t feel the need to change.

For decades I have been observing the work of others through their photography projects, mostly in the area of nature and conservation. While I care about conservation, the honest truth is that my passion within photography is more personal. My photography provides a place of peace, comfort and creativity. It has allowed me to explore subjects that move me in ways that inspire, excite, intrigue and bring healing and wholeness. And, while all of these elements are not present every day or every time I go out to photograph, they are a big part of the “why” for me. I need this creative outlet for self-expression.

I had named this one “Balloon Barn”

And this was “Race Barn”


Over the course of my life, I’ve been involved in and led several intense projects. The one that was most personal as well as all-consuming for well over ten years was as the Founder of the Breast Cancer Resource Directory of North Carolina, which was a free resource (in print and online) for anyone impacted by breast cancer, from diagnosis and treatment to end of life issues and everything in between. It was personal because I am a two-time, 31-year breast cancer survivor, and I knew the importance of the information that was being gathered and shared. It was a passion project, for sure, and I wouldn’t go back and change any part of it because of the incredibly positive impact to thousands and thousands of people within the breast cancer community at a time when information was not nearly as accessible as it is now. However, the project itself was a more-than full-time, primarily volunteer, job. In addition, I worked a full-time job at a law firm. The commitment level was high. I didn’t do it alone (and couldn’t have), but I was the last one standing when the project finally ended.

So, when I heard about personal projects in photography, the resource directory project was my point of reference. I was not ready to undertake any more all-consuming passion projects – no matter how much I love photography and no matter how much it is my “soul feeder”. Actually, I want to keep it that way. Truth is I didn’t want to put myself in a “consumptive” or “obsessive” mode again, ever. At one point I vowed not to be in charge of another project again, period.

“Your Ad Here” faded long ago.

The crooked door and more is off now.


When I looked up “project” in the dictionary, the first thing I read was “an individual or collaborative enterprise that is carefully planned to achieve a particular aim.” That didn’t sound very exciting or interesting to me. Then, I read that “an ongoing activity without an end date is not considered a project.” That, too, didn’t fit my conception or understanding of a personal project as a visual artist. Neither did “temporary endeavors that are unique and have specific goals and objectives to achieve,” but it came closer.

Only when I searched for “personal projects” did I come across a description by Chase Jarvis on the Creative Live blog that fit just right: “personal projects can be anything … doesn’t have to be big … that expresses your ideas or interests” AND “they can take years, even decades, to grow and develop.”

Bottom line – the personal project is for me a way to focus and explore and express my unique vision and a way for me to learn more about myself and to grow as an artist. It is not something that comes with a requirement to produce something tangible, though it could, and it might

“Sumo” perished in a fire some years back.

“American Gothic” still stands strong.

Instead of quoting much of the blog post by Chase on “The Power of Personal Projects,” I highly recommend that you click the link and read it for yourself. And, if you want to learn more about personal projects in a guided fashion, consider Mary Presson Roberts’ “Personal Projects Workshop.” My conversations with Mary were about how she has done them and how they have varied in nature, time and purpose, and how they have helped her. I have been pushed out of the tiny circle that is my comfort zone into the much larger circle beyond.

I look forward to embracing my own personal projects in a way that works for me. In fact, as I mentioned already, I’ve been working them for years without knowing it. Now, it’s time to gather my raw material and put together a running list of all the “unintended” personal projects so that they have the opportunity to show me more about myself, to help me understand the “why’s” of them, and recognize how they have and will continue to help me grow not only as an artist, but as a person.

The Corn Crib and “Ballpark Barn” in infrared still hold on.

A detail of one of the barns.


What I did not want was to “sign on” to another project that obligated me to go all in, full bore, with no way out. I did not want a permanent “must do” on my always growing “to do” list. Gradually, through my observations of the work of other photographers and the insights they’ve shared from their personal projects over the last several years, I have become intrigued. I have even begun wondering what, if anything, I might be missing in my own work for lack of a project. My resistance has softened, and I am seeing the value of having something personal to focus my photography on, for whatever reason and in whatever way works for me.

My friend and workshop co-leader, Mary Presson Roberts, has played a part in this softening. As I have watched her share her projects and talked with her about them, I realized that I have had a number of personal projects going for over twenty years without realizing it. I just haven’t thought of them in that way because they have come about naturally. Among these projects (all of which have not been formally identified as such) are my love of tr