Take Your Ideas Seriously

When a class meets only once a week, “homework” happens right away. In the case of Projects, this means a reading some (very short) papers and writing responses to them, as well as developing the “contract” for what I will do over the term.

The first paper is “The Idea’s The Thing” by Frank Calidonna.1 In it, Calidonna tries to inspire the reader to plan for making photographs, and then gives some tips in how that could be accomplished.

His premise is that a photographer who doesn’t have a motivating idea behind a photograph, who isn’t really trying to say something with their photograph, is merely a technician—no matter how good their technique or their equipment is.

Calidonna then gives some suggestions for generating ideas, mainly asking yourself questions about why you photograph and what you hope to show your audience. He follows that with some concrete methods for keeping track of ideas and following through with them.

As someone who has been keeping an (electronic) journal for a few years now, I’m unlikely to follow his advice to keep a paper notebook,2 but it doesn’t mean the article wasn’t worth reading. First of all, it’s good to be reminded to “take your ideas seriously, no matter how frivolous or weird they may seem at first.” After all, I wrote and produced a short movie based on a weird idea I had.

Second, he suggests that one’s “idea book” should be separate from a “journal”—implying that the “idea book” will be something like a record of one’s career (hence his insistence on a bound book). This is similar to the traditional method of recording science experiments in a permanent record—though labs do not expect people to have only one record book for their lifetimes.

I have come to agree that there should be some separation between a journal and an idea development system (paper or electronic). I use my journal for everything, not just art ideas, so it’s difficult to follow the thread of my thinking on any particular project. Up until recently, I would put project-related documents in a folder, but I had no method for connecting the idea living in my journal with the project folder. I’m now systematizing this, and in the process I’m finding ideas I’d forgotten about.

This is the true benefit of recording ideas as soon you have them, which is the point of Calidonna’s idea book. Even if you can’t act on it right away, that idea is there, waiting for the time when you can.

  1. LensWork 29, May–June 2000. LensWork doesn’t make its articles available without subscription, but there is an version of this article at Frank Calidonna’s website

  2. Though in his defense, it was published in 2000.