WRITTEN BY DOUG HANSON
Shoot 10,000 people’s portraits for free? When there are a myriad of reasons to give up, Doug Hanson has found a myriad of reasons to keep going. Welcome to the project that will take his lifetime. Welcome to The Myriad Project!
I would say that I’m better than average at math. I like the logic of it. I like how definitive it is. My wife loves math. She’s a Math Teacher. So it seems unlikely that both of us could overlook the enormity of a personal project I was debating that day, sitting on the sofa in our living room. Yet here I am, more than eight months into that project and barely 1% complete.
I Should Just Give Up
I’m a photographer. It doesn’t matter to me that by day, people refer to me as a Senior Strategist for an advertising agency. I’m a photographer. It’s what I do. It’s what I love.
Big deal, right? Everyone’s a photographer these days.
But the difference between me and all of the others is that I suck at photography. The photography gods hate me despite how much time I spend worshiping them. Every photograph I take is an insult to the legends of the craft. Adams. Avedon. Karsh. Leibovitz. They’re all turning in their graves looking at my work. Wait, Annie Leibovitz isn’t dead.
Anyway… I’m nothing. I’m nobody. I’m a joke.
No matter what people tell me. No matter how many times people say how much they love my photos. I know they’re wrong. They’re not photographers. What do they know? I’m a photographer, damn it! I know my work sucks.
I should just give up.
But then I hear that click of the shutter in my head. I see that perfect moment frozen in time forever. I feel the emotion of that moment physically. I can’t quit.
I. Am. A. Photographer.
I love capturing the inner soul of the person
It’s easy to give up. And I should know. I’ve given up on a lot of dreams.
You start to convince yourself that they’re not as important as you thought. Sometimes you’re right, but mostly you give up because it’s difficult to achieve your dreams. It’s scary! What if you fail? Oh, the embarrassment you’ll suffer. Your family will disown you. Your friends will laugh at you.
Forgive me for being insensitive, but WHO THE F%CK CARES? It’s your dream!
My dream is to take beautiful photographs. Stop-in-your-tracks, stare-for-hours, bring-tears-to-your-eyes, soul-filled, Photographs (that’s right, with an upper case ‘P’).
I want my photographs to connect with people the same way that I connect with Yousef Karsh’s and Annie Leibovitz’s portraits. I don’t care if I’m the best photographer. I don’t care if I’m ever a famous photographer. But I do want my photographs to have meaning and impact – even if that’s only for the person I shoot.
So how will I ever get there? It’s a long journey from being a photographer that sucks to a photographer that’s actually quite good. The ‘me’ from five years ago would say it’s too far. It’s too difficult. You’ll never get there. Maybe he’s right. Or maybe he’s an idiot.
A New Me
Anyway, it doesn’t much matter. The ‘me’ from today is not the same person as the ‘me’ from five years ago. Today, I’m not as focused on the destination; I’m focused on the journey.
You can kick yourself over and over again for not making it. For not doing it as quickly as someone else did. Or, you can enjoy every minute you spend along the way.
Step back every once in a while and quietly admire where you are in your journey. Look how far you’ve come. Revel in it. It feels good. It reinvigorates the passion you have for where you’re heading.
One step forward. One little step.
My passion is for portraits. Not those “say cheese,” big box store, portrait studio kind of portraits, but portraits that show real, raw, authentic expressions. Portraits that give you a glimpse inside a person’s soul. They’re not always flattering, but they’re always beautiful.
These types of portraits aren’t exactly in high demand these days. People seem to want the fake smile. It’s safer.
Take the Risk
So there I was, eight months ago, wondering how a terrible photographer like myself was going to get better at taking portraits – the kind of portraits that nobody seemed to want. I wasn’t going to get better by just dreaming about it. I either had to give up or do something about it.
Those are your choices. Give up and fool yourself into thinking that you’re better off because you avoided the pain of defeat. Or take a deep breath, and do something – anything at all and be proud that you’ve made an effort… taken a risk.
I realized that the life I was living was that of a quitter. A non-starter. My story was about a man that took the easy path. The predictable path. And it made my soul weep.
The Myriad Project
That’s when The Myriad Project was born. I dreamed-up a personal photography project with a goal of taking portraits of 10,000 people. Portraits that I could shoot the way I wanted. In the style that I love.
I wasn’t about to let people suck the passion out of me by dictating how they wanted their portrait taken, so I would do every portrait for free with the agreement that I have complete creative control.
Portraits of 10,000 people. Seemed do-able at the time.
My First Step
I started with my wife. Then my step-mother. My dad. Then I coerced some friends to come over for supper and got them to participate. Suddenly, out of the blue, a stranger emailed asking if she could participate. Then another. And another. Before I knew it, I was booked a month out. Then two months. And now, four months.
I spend between an hour to two hours on most sessions. Getting to know the person. Taking their portraits. Then another two hours or more choosing which five portraits to edit, editing them and posting them to my website. It’s a ton of work. It’s exhausting. And I love every minute of it.
‘That is the way to learn the most… when you are doing something with such enjoyment that you don’t notice that the time passes.’ – Einstein
What The Myriad Project is Teaching Me
This project has taught me a lot and I’m only just getting started. First, it has taught me that I’m not as good at math as I thought. Portraits of 10,000 people is going to take me a lifetime – not a few years like I first thought. But that’s ok. Imagine a lifetime of doing something you love!
Second, people respond to effort. So many of the strangers that have contacted me have said that they just simply wanted to be part of a project of this scope. They say they love how ambitious the project is. It’s inspiring to them.
Third, a personal project can save your passion.
When you don’t know what to do next. When you’re feeling blocked or uninspired. You have something to go back to. For me, this is so important.
So many times over the last five years I’ve gone into a rut, not feeling like shooting anything. Thinking that maybe it’s time to put the camera down for good and try something else. This project forces me to keep shooting and it constantly reminds me of why I love portrait photography.
Fourth, it feels amazing to push yourself outside of your comfort zone. I’m not a people person. But to take better portraits, I have to be. I have to engage with my subjects. I have to be personable. I’m pushing myself every day. And I look back at some of the interactions I’ve had and am proud of myself. I’m growing as a photographer, but I’m also growing as a person.
Lastly, this has taught me that small steps and passion will get me to where I’m headed. Every shoot is better than the last. I’m making progress. And I’m taking time with every step to revel in what I’ve accomplished so far.
Sure it’s just a beginning. But it is a beginning. I’m nowhere near finished. And I don’t mean reaching the 10,000. I mean that feeling I used to get, those little nuggets of doubt that would start creeping in… they’re nowhere in sight. I am going to keep going.
Capturing the personality within
There’s Always a Way
There’s no reason not to do what you love. There’s always a way. I look back at my life five or ten years ago when I thought that success (society’s definition of success, anyway) was the route to happiness and fulfillment. The things I loved to do were getting in the way of making more money, of getting that next big promotion.
‘Once I get that big promotion and raise, then I’ll have time to do what I love…’
That’s what I used to think. That’s backward thinking. Do what you love now. Find a way. Life will be so much better!
‘The trouble is, you think you have time.’ – Buddha
For me, it was about priorities. I started getting rid of things. I stopped buying things. I focused on what was important. Not what other people think is important. When you do that, you live life for yourself (and the people you love). Life is so much better. Life is so much more fulfilling.
So the only advice I can give is to figure out what’s important. Figure out what you love to do. Then take small steps every day, every week, and move toward it. Minimize the things that don’t make you happy. Spend more time doing the things that do make you happy.
I know it seems simple. And, well, it is simple. So simple, in fact, anyone can do it.
- Written by: Doug Hanson
- Compiled, formatted and edited by: Krista Beauvais
- Photos: all photos are courtesy of Doug Hanson
- Project started: October 2012
- Read more about the project and see all portraits: www.themyriadproject.com
- Anyone is welcome to participate in The Myriad Project