Conceptual portrait photographer Verónica Cerna shares tips for turning a concept into a strong project statement
Verónica Cerna (@veronica_cerna) is a photographer and videographer who’s had her work published in magazines such as Musée Magazine, Shots Magazine, Better Photography, and Revista Pecado.
Verónica started out creating self-portraits and has always been drawn to experimental portraiture. During her teens, she discovered that photography was a way for her to understand herself and take control of her body. She counts Edward Hopper, Ouka Leele, and Gregory Crewdson among the artists she’s been most influenced by. In her Domestika course, she invites you to learn about her process for creating a series of conceptual portraits. In this blog, she shares tips on how to create a concept and convert it into a powerful statement.
Intuition vs. Reason
“You might start a project with a clear and concrete idea, or you might start off with a feeling that you’re not entirely sure how to convey or portray. Creating a series of images can be as much intuitive as it can be rational,” says Verónica. She adds that she is drawn to photography because it enables her to communicate what she struggles to say with words. For this reason, she always begins a project using her intuition.
Get a notebook!
Verónica recommends getting a notebook so you can write all of your ideas down. “[The idea is that when you write in this notebook], you won’t feel the pressure of having to come up with a concept. Write down feelings, ideas, anecdotes, and quotes that inspire you.” Later, when you look back through it, it will help give your work meaning, because, at the end of the day, you’re talking about something very personal.
A lot of the time, a concept can come from a very academic idea about how to give your work substance. “I think the most important thing is being able to connect with the emotion that has moved you to create these images,” adds Verónica.
Trust your instinct
“You might feel lost at times, but it’s important that you trust your instinct. Even if you have an idea that seems absurd or irrational, go for it! Don’t be afraid to make mistakes,” insists Verónica. Always take the time to observe your images so that you can better understand them, what exactly you want to say, or where your ideas have come from. “Often, the image comes first, and then, afterward, you develop the concept over time,” says Verónica. “It’s important to remember that your most visceral and primitive impulses will also be the most sincere.”
The concept will evolve with time
It might be that you start with a very concrete idea, however this idea changes and evolves with time. “You need to always be open to new ideas emerging along the way and that your project can transform into something totally different,” says Verónica.
Keep an eye out for new sources of inspiration, and don’t ever stop creating–whether that’s with a clear idea in mind or with your eyes closed.
A strong concept can arise from a simple idea
For Verónica, photographer Richard Renaldi’s book “Touching Strangers” is a great example of how a series can evolve from a very simple idea. For the photo series, Renaldi took to the streets to photograph pairs of strangers being close, touching hands, embracing, sometimes kissing.
This project started with one image, and later it grew and grew, as Renaldi went to different US states and took more photos to add to the collection. With this project, Verónica wants to show how you might start with a straightforward idea, but the project will likely go on to grow over time, and will end up with a very solid concept. “Touching Strangers” completely dismantles the idea that we are taught from childhood: “Don’t speak to strangers”. This series breaks down barriers while being shot in a country in which social, racial, and cultural groups continue to face so many.
Share your work with others
It’s very helpful to keep showing your work to others. This way, they can explain how it makes them feel, how they perceive it, and what their first impressions are. This will help you to figure out what you want to say and whether you are on the right path.
Discover more about Verónica’s creative process and learn more about how to approach a creative portraiture photography project, sign up to her Domestika course, Conceptual Portrait Photography.