MATTHEW NORDHAGEN :: PHOTOGRAPHY

THOUGHTS ON MAINTAINING A PERSONAL WEBSITE & PORTFOLIO

April 19th, 2020

It has been two years since I started my website. This month to be exact. One year ago I provided a small list of what I learned during that initial year, which you can read here. A lot of what I wrote then still applies now, however an additional year provides some perspective on how this website has evolved from what it was then to what it is now, and whether it is worth all of the effort two years later.

This time last year I had set myself some rather lofty goals of producing written content once a week. I failed miserably. Writing is difficult so forcing myself to create content for the sake of creating content made writing that much more difficult. To help avoid a serious case of writers block, and possibly burnout, I was going to only focus on what I really wanted to write about, which drastically reduced my output to a once per month average. At the time I thought that seemed too little but it worked out to be a happy medium simply because it allowed me the time to meet my goals and sustain them. Again, consistancy is key. Trim what you need from your goal in order to meet the bare minimum, consistantly. Then work your way up from there.

My goals for photography are similar to those for written content. Once per month, with the option for more if the opportunity presents itself. This website has proven to be a great motivator in that respect. This is due in large part to the fact that this website serves as a point of focus. Rather than a photograph being just another file on my computer, this website forces me to evaluate a photograph as if it were tangible. Similar to how you might evaluate a photograph if displaying work in a gallery, an online portfolio serves as a virtual gallery with similar expectations. You are looking to create a cohesive body of work that not only demonstrates your style but also the quality of that style. This helps develop a more critical eye that becomes sensitive to quality over quantity. I have noticed gradual improvement in my own work over the last several years and I have this website to credit for that.

Let's pivot briefly to the technical aspects of maintaining a personal website and portfolio. This website began on Squarespace and I wrote several posts about my decision to transition from Squarespace to a dedicated hosting platform, which can be read here and here. Two years later, do I regret this transition? No. I was concerned initially that there would be responsibilites and work involved that would prove too overwhelming for someone such as myself who has little experience in web development, but by keeping the HTML/CSS and site functionality simple it has been easily manageable. I won't cover the technical nuts and bolts here since I covered them in detail before but, suffice it say, little has changed. There are benefits to a minimalist approach to web design and development as there is very little that needs to be maintained once the structure is in place. This approach for me has been reliable and, technically speaking, somewhat self-sufficient. A robust web host plays a critical role here and if I had to offer some advice it would be to, above all else, do your homework and carefully choose a web host. It may end up costing you more money but it will be worth every penny.

So, is all of this worth it? Yes. Two years is not a significant amount of time, but it is not insignificant. It has been enough time for me to confirm what I wrote one year ago, forget everything else and do it for yourself. It is a head space that requires some adjustment. All of the effort seems pointless at first since there is no feedback, social or otherwise. In fact, it may feel like your content is just floating out in the internet ether, serving no real purpose or value. Except, over time, you begin to build an online resume with a backlog of content that serves as a point of reference of where you are versus where you started. This tends to be a motivating factor in and of itself simply because you then have this desire to keep building on the work that you have already done. Put more simply, a personal website and portfolio is something that keeps you moving forward, iterating over ideas, and producing with greater intent. That is the real purpose and value of a personal website and portfolio and, if you have considered creating an online space for yourself, I cannot recommend it highly enough.