Collections of photographs focused on a single subject display an entertaining, revealing, and graphic quality impossible to achieve with a single image. The sum is better than its parts, be it photographic groupings of trees or morning light, dogs in photo booths, or dogs in cars.
Sometimes these photo essays are the work of years of focused study and other times they are accidental discoveries. For example, it was only after tagging my photos on Flickr that I realized that I’ve photographed a fair amount of street dogs, cats, coffee, clouds, bridges, light through windows, and, well, balloons. Individually, none of these photos are particularly amazing, but when I saw them collected in a row, they started to tell a more interesting story.
The online art gallery 20×200, which sells limited editions of fine art prints, allows you to search by artist, category (portraits, nature, food, birds, etc.), and color! The motivation for the color filter may have something to do with interior decorating, but the result is fascinating. The black collection is my favorite. 20×200 doesn’t have a balloon category, but you can see this photo by Youngna Park among other red or New York City prints.
Thanks to that whole Internet thing, it’s much easier to follow artists whose work you enjoy. There are many photographers I follow, sometimes because of a thematic connection or a stylistic sensibility; sometimes it’s both. For example, Alison Garnett has several great photo collections like these home life pairings, and these beautiful explorations on film and Polaroid—often quiet, intimate portraits of her children. Her Flickr page shows the wider range of her thematic interests—such as light—as seen through these balloons.
Speaking of light, I recently came across the photo blog The Blue Hour by Brian Ferry, where each entry feels like a mini photo essay, be it from a stroll in the woods, a meal with friends, or light moving through an apartment. I assume these are just some of Brian’s interests, but the point here is that there’s power in the aggregation of photographs. Collectively, they can be shaped into photo essays that inevitably reveal something about the artist (or the amateur). And you never know, many photo books have their start this way.