Working on the Tattoo Project over this last year I've discovered if there is one thing that can make your photography better it's access. Increased access to the things that you want to shoot allow you to be more intimate with the subject and increase your chances of getting the shots that you want.
When I started the tattoo project I knew I wanted to take pictures of tattoo culture in Austin. I have never had a tattoo and never stepped into a shop before. On a sunny Saturday I walked into Great Wave Tattoo down the street and asked them if I could take pictures. I was sweaty, super nervous and pretty damn sure they would say no. A guy was getting tattooed naked on a table, they asked if he was cool with it and he said, "sure". Now, I was on. I collected myself the best I could and took some images I'm really proud of.
Working this same way, I went into 3 more shops. Literally walking up and asking if I could take pictures. Each time I was nervous and expected rejection and each time they said yes. With a couple of shops under my belt I started using those experiences to gain access to other shops. I smartened up and sent out an e-mail telling people what I wanted to do and some of the images I had done. To date, I was kicked out of only one shop and had another shop say no in e-mail.
You learn so many things along the way too. How the shops are run. Why different shops have different styles, setups, standards and rules. You start to pickup the language and understand the community and the players. You start to become a part of the community yourself. When this began I never imagined these things happening but it has been a great gift and helped me understand the industry and subject better.
I've been thinking about what the next project is going to be, a crazy idea is to go all around the world to take pictures of restaurants and the people working in them. If you asked me early last year how the hell could I pull something like this off I would of told you I don't have a clue. But after my experience with the tattoo project the plan is much simpler. I'd go to couple of places in town show them my images and ask to shoot. I'd send them prints after I left and ask them for references. I go to those places to shoot and slowly expand my access. After I'd saturated Austin I'd ask San Antonio if I could shoot there for a weekend/week and do the same thing. I'd turn that work into a zine/book/project. I'd go to more cities.
All of this sounds pretty pie in the sky and simple but it's worked so far. It's also a lot of hard work and risk of being flat out rejected. There is no way around that part of it. For me, it's about getting out there, belonging to a community and trying to do it justice. I wish I would of started earlier.