Talk to any serious photographer or, indeed, anyone who would like to be thought of as a serious photographer and this question will inevitably crop up sooner or later “So, what project are you working on now?” Or even “What projects….” Once photography starts to matter, once it becomes more than just a hobby, it’s not enough simply to photograph random stuff. Wisdom dictates that you have to have a specific calling, a mission. A project. At least one.

Presumably this arises from the belief that focus is a good thing. By concentrating your efforts on a particular declared subject you will be able to prove your ability. This is why so many people I know are currently off photographing refugees in far-flung communities or loitering round dog shows every weekend or even trying to put together a portfolio of ethereal, ginger haired girls (preferably with their ginger identical twin) standing partially clothed on wind-swept moors in the rain looking defiant and unobtainable. I should make it clear here that I’m in no way ridiculing these projects. I have projects of my own, some of which are more ambitious and esoteric than others. I also have projected projects. Projects I’d like to get round to doing one day once I get the chance. But the problem is they all pale in to insignificance against the greatest, most challenging project of all. Photographing Fred.

As he gets older (and more adverse to having his photograph taken) the sheer number of Fred photographs I have increases and presents me with a serious question, namely when will this project ever be finished? Because the other thing about photography projects is that they are meant to be finite. The people I mentioned above, whether they’re focusing on politics, dogs or ginger haired girls all have a common aim in mind. They all want to produce a book. Currently there is a bit of a photography book revolution taking place. More and more books are being published or self published. There are collectives producing group books and ‘zines being photocopied and churned out monthly. Everyone is making books of their projects.

If I’m having problems with Fred rebelling against being photographed aged 4, how do I expect to continue this throughout his teenage years and beyond, into adulthood?

Now, obviously, I can make books of Fred. I have made books of Fred. Websites like Blurb and Bob Books make it incredibly easy and they make lovely objects and presents for grandparents but they can never tell the whole story. The other day I realised that I had quite a substantial amount of photographs of Fred either lying about or running or falling over and so I made a book called ‘A Little Book Of Fred In Action And Inaction From 0 to 4 and a half’ (if anyone actually wants to see it then here it is).

But is this a project? No, it’s merely part of the greater project. The realisation that making this book provoked in me, the sheer panic it arose was this – my ultimate project is to somehow document all of Fred’s life from birth until I’m no longer able to raise a camera to my eye. Although by then I fully expect technology to have a camera embedded in my eye so maybe that should just read from his birth until my death? I’m still struggling to get my brain round the ramifications of this ambition. Beyond the very real problems arising from storage and cost of film (yes, I still shoot on film), other obstacles abound. If I’m having problems with Fred rebelling against being photographed at age 4 then how do I expect to continue this throughout his teenage years and beyond, in to adulthood? How will a 30-year-old Fred react to me making a book called ‘A Little Book of Fred Gradually Losing His Hair From 21 to 30’? or even ‘A Not So Little Book Of Fred Getting Annoyed And Attacking The Camera Aged 5 to 26’?

Because that’s the challenge. Once I started taking photographs of this tiny, fragile alien that suddenly invaded our lives four years ago, I realised pretty quickly that I couldn’t ever stop. He’ll always be endlessly fascinating to me and I’ll always want to try and preserve the emotions he provokes in me on film. That’s inevitable. God only knows when I’m going to find the time to edit the whole thing down to one, manageable book though…..

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By , 19th August 2021
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From a celebration of the life of John le Carré at Cheltenham to an exploration of women and crime in Chiswick, please join me at one of the following events, across the country (and the internet!)