Mar 18, 2013

Images, Ideas, and Crossed Fingers

It's amazing to me how a creative idea can start out as something so inconsequential, and then suddenly expand so quickly that you're left asking yourself why you didn't do this sooner. If you've been a part of this site or my facebook page for the last year than you'll already know that I'm talking about Around the Hat

The last few months have seen a lot of growth, increased interest, and some cool opportunities arise. I thought it was finally time to write a bit more about the personal side of the project, what it's been like, and what the future challenges are going to be for completing the series. Stick with me here.

The timing of this post is no accident. A year ago this month the idea for a photo series about my hometown of Medicine Hat, Alberta had just entered my head. I was shooting some of my first sets for the project, and was having fun being a local tourist. I announced the project at the end of that month, enthusiastic about my images, but without any real idea of what it might become. 

Here we are a year later now, and the project is nothing short of a well of inspiration for me to draw on. From City Hall to the bell tower of St. Patrick's, from the abandoned factories of the clay district to Police Point at sunset, from the poker room of the Cypress Club to the basement of the Monarch Theatre, from the banks of the South Saskatchewan River to the tracks of CP Rail Bridge that spans it, there isn't a lot of Medicine Hat that I haven't seen up close at this point. The beauty is that I've been able to share it all here on my site, and inspire others to take a closer look at their hometowns too. 

Successes in the last few months have been pretty exciting. They've included the selling of prints, designing my custom postcards, opening my first online shop, interest in my work from City Hall, an article in the Medicine Hat News, recognition from the historic society, a meeting with MLA Drew Barnes, private access to abandoned locations downtown, invitations inside prominent heritage sites, and promotion from a number of individuals, businesses, and groups online - most recently, Travel Alberta who shared my latest Around the Hat promo video on Friday. 

For my site this has meant a steady increase in traffic and numerous all-time monthly highs for Editing Luke's hits and page views in the last year. My facebook page has also started to blow up thanks to a few widget upgrades and some heavy handed promotion. In short, everything appears to be moving in the right direction. It's the crazy thing about success though, the challenges and the scope of problems seem to grow with it. Truthfully, I'm left feeling like there's so much more to do now that the bar has risen.

The reality is that I still have a lot on my list that I'd like to shoot before I wrap up the project at the end of 2013, and the process of designing and compiling a photo book from thousands of images will be no less demanding. 

My preliminary research, fueled in no small part by my audience survey, has only emphasized what a difficult road ahead it's going to be to make this photo book happen. Forget just designing it, but the cost to self publish a photo book on an individual order basis (like I've done in the past) easily surpasses $100 per copy. Not only is that expensive for the average buyer, but that's all printing costs, and makes me nothing on the sale. I'm not looking to be greedy here, but I've shot this entire series without patronage and done it while still working on corporate photography full time, it should be understandable that I'd like the book to offer some compensation for my efforts.

This means the book can't really happen without a grant or donation or sponsor or publisher to subsidize the costs. And while Around the Hat may feature plenty of beautiful images, the reality is that the appeal is obviously going to be strongest right here in Medicine Hat. It's exactly the kind of heritage project that requires the community to support it for it to be fully realized.  

All of this is still months away mind you, but it does raise concerns about what may actually be possible - and when push comes to shove, whether people will actually be interested. 

At the end of the day, I don't really know what might become of all this and where it may lead. I'm addicted to this project now though, and the initial successes have lead me to believe that I'm actually on to something special. My creative ego aside, I wonder what this collection will actually mean to the community 100 years from now? It's a fair question considering what the images I saw from the early 1900s inspired me to do.

In my view, Around the Hat isn't only the portrait of a western Canadian prairie city, it's a document of growth, change, and lost stories. Given our relative seclusion from the rest of the world and the fact that our history here barely spans 150 years, there's something amazing about how this place has evolved in such a short span. In some cases it seems like buildings simply disappeared without record, industries sprang up and then vanished without much proof of their existence, and thousands of stories were never documented. I'm not saying my series is the answer, but it echoes that mystery and wonder we all have about the places we live, the people who grew up here before us, and the treasures that are hiding in our own backyards.

If you have any feedback, ideas, or want to discuss my Around the Hat series, please get in touch with me via my portfolio contact page here.  

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