Why I’m Glad “The Mongolian Experiment” Failed and My New Plans
When I came back from a year abroad in South Korea, I had two great ideas that unfortunately fell by the wayside after I realized that both of them were a bit beyond my reach at the time. One was a documentary project that I called The Mongolian Experiment, and the other was a crowd funding/crowd sourcing platform that sourced people’s skills instead of their money, which I called “Tindr” (which I gave the tag line ‘it only takes a spark to start a fire’). Sadly, I had neither the programming expertise or the money to hire a programmer for Tindr, and after doing a heck of a lot of research on what it would take for me to accomplish my plans for The Mongolian Experiment, I realized that I was too out of shape, too inexperienced with horses, too new to the travel blogging and photo blogging spheres to be able to pull it off, and the project itself was too esoteric to appeal to a larger audience without a 5 minute explanation. In retrospect, I have also realized that frankly, I had no idea what I was doing and was working based on pre-conceived notions that were pretty far off from reality.
That was three years ago. Three years may not be a huge amount of time, but I have changed substantially as a person and fundamentally as a photographer since then. In those three years, I’ve paid attention to where my strengths and weaknesses lie, as well as the subjects that interest me the most and that I’m best at portraying through photography. I’ve honed my skills and specialized. I’ve gone from an aspiring professional to an actual professional. The biggest change, though, is that I’ve realized that I can come up with ideas until I’m blue in the face, but nothing is ever going to come of them unless I actually put myself out there on the line and do something about them.
Just because I cancelled The Mongolian Experiment doesn’t mean that I gave up on large-scale projects. If anything, it actually made me more determined to make something work. For the last few years, I’ve been thinking about just what it is that I really can throw my heart and soul behind, what it is that has a snowball’s chance in hell of succeeding.
I had a conversation recently with another photographer about what I’m most passionate about shooting – the stuff that really just makes my heart sing when I see it through my viewfinder. I came up with three subjects: reenactors, horses and equestrians, and little-known or ill-understood cultures/subcultures. I actually have some ideas for a domestic project involving reenactors, but what I realized is that there was a great opportunity for me to combine my interests in horse cultures and little-known peoples with my love of international travel. And lo, I came up with an idea.
I want to do a series of explorations of the long-standing horse cultures in several different locations around the world: Mongolia, Argentina, Spain, the American West. Possibly even places like Russia and Central Asia would be included. I would love to take a year and examine all of them over the course of a year, but if there’s one thing I learned from my failures with The Mongolian Experiment, it is to break things into manageable chunks. So, I will do each country one at a time, at least at first, with the photos being turned into a large format photography book (and possibly an exhibition, if I can secure one). I am hoping to start off with either Mongolia or Argentina, as both of those places have deeply entrenched horse cultures and are somewhat enigmatic to an American audience. If that project does well, then I will move onto doing the other countries. The project will be crowd funded through either Kickstarter or IndieGoGo.
I feel that this project has a lot of advantages over my earlier concept. First of all, it’s a large project that is easily broken down into smaller, more manageable chunks that each still stand on their own. Secondly, it’s an easy, relatable subject that doesn’t take much explanation: horse culture in X country. Third, whereas The Mongolian Experiment relied on trying to find people who were interested in Mongolian culture, which is a fairly small number of people. By comparison, this project can pull from the gigantic equestrian subculture that is fairly easy to tap into (and it helps that it’s a demographic that tends to have money to spend). Finally, I am now much more well connected and marketing savvy than I used to be, and more and more crowd funded projects are successful every day.
I have quite a bit of research to do before any of this can get anywhere close to getting off the ground, but you can expect to see me posting about my progress on figuring this all out in the meantime. I am hoping to have enough of it all put together to get my campaign started early this fall. Until then, I have a huge amount of work in front of me.
What do you all think?