I ask myself that very question on a regular basis. I have a hard time letting go of a project and drawing a line in the sand that designates the end of one thing and the beginning of the next. Most of my photo projects are unfinished and I will continue to work on them in the future. Like a river they all just seem to flow into the next and become part of something larger. A few are finished. Signs of Life was finished the day that Google started adding in watermarks all over Google Earth. Richard and Thelma is near completion as my grandparents are about to move out of their home of 40 years and into my aunt’s house due to their failing health. However, both of those are considered finished because of outside influences and not because of my own decision making process.
So as you can see I have a problem. Or maybe it isn’t a problem at all. Who is to say a project can’t just keep going on? Why do we need do draw definitive lines? Is it the nature of the photographic beast? So then the next question is, when is the work ready to show? That is a question that I don’t yet have an answer for. One of my past mentors would never show work until they were clearly done with the project and already into their next one. I don’t necessarily subscribe to that philosophy. I am currently working on a project that I don’t know if it will ever have an end to it and I am in the process of putting the work out there for the public now. As it continues to grow over time I am sure it will morph into something bigger and hopefully better, but I don’t think I should wait until 30 years from now when the project is officially “finished” to put the work out there.
So when is a project finished? I think when you lose interest in your subject matter then it is time to move on. When the act of going out and photographing for the project becomes a chore then it is probably time to take a good look at it and possibly move on. For myself, generally, I have a hard time moving on to the next because I rarely lose interest in a project. In a way most of my projects are all related to each other and focus in on the same basic idea, so technically speaking, they are never really finished and they are all just part of one continuous exploration for something I may never actually be able to capture. That doesn’t mean that I won’t keep trying though.