I have always loved art. Anything visual. I love colours and textures and lines and the stories that are told with no words. I love the creative process that takes you from an idea to a product. I especially love the challenge of putting a complex idea into one still image that can communicate not only an emotion but a series of events. I have explored many different media in my life – I’ve painted, drawn, sculpted, and of course, taken photographs. Of all the different media I have tried, photography has been the one art that I have stuck with. It’s cheap, it’s fast, it’s available.
Back in the day, I loved my Nikon SLR camera. It was my most cherished possession. It was on my list of two things to save if I had to escape a fire, along with my cat. I played with it all over the world, capturing moments and images of the places I experienced. It was exciting (and sometimes devastating) to get the photos back from the developer and see what magic (or mayhem) had transpired between the lens and the developing solution. When digital cameras came out, I went to Canon and got a decent point and shoot with the ability to go completely manual and I continued to learn how to build and manipulate images on this new technology. Over the years, I have become a little more stationary, not having the disposable income and free time of my younger years. Now I have a Nikon DSLR and I love taking photos with it. It makes me feel like a professional; makes me feel like an artist. But a camera as big as that does not fit into my everyday life anymore. But my phone does. It’s always on me, it takes good pictures (if you know its strengths and weaknesses), I can use an app to edit the shot and then post it quickly, if I want to.
Several years ago, I saw somewhere on Facebook, a picture of a list. This list was made up of prompts. Each day was an idea for a photograph. I filed it in my “Good Idea” file in my brain and quickly forgot about it. Then, in 2012, while in London over Christmas holidays, I remembered it and decided to look it up and try it as part of one of my New Year’s Resolutions – to honour my creativity. Life is very busy – too busy – and over the recent years I seemed to have lost the artistic creativity that had once seemed like the only thing worth living for. I felt that my soul had been buried under bills and work and an endless pile of dishes. I searched online for something that looked like what I remembered and I found a list that looked interesting posted on Fat Mum Slim’s blog. It turns out that this woman blogs about a lot of different things, including iPhonegraphy, and she has been making monthly lists of photography inspiration for several years now. She also provides, as a fellow happy snapper, mini-lessons on photographic techniques and how to accomplish them on an iPhone. I found it on January 1st 2013. And so I started with the prompt “Today”.
This project changed my life. It wasn’t just about taking a photo a day just to say you’ve done it. This was a year-long adventure. There were days of pure brilliance and days of sheer frustration. It’s easy to document life when it’s exciting and fun and moving. But how do you record the worst days of the year? There will be days where everything is beautiful and inspiring and you have to make the difficult choice of just one image. There will be days where nothing feels worthy of a photo. Days when you are stuck wondering how you could possibly make a snowstorm at the end of March seem interesting. But it is a promise to yourself to keep looking for beauty. As a friend said, after I had explained the project to her, “It’s like every day is a treasure hunt.” To slow down and take the time to really see what is around you. To explore your place in this world and your relationship to the things that you experience. To be reminded every day that EVERYTHING has the potential for beauty.
Throughout my project, people often asked me where I got my ideas. When trying to come up with an idea for the prompt listed, I started by exploring the word or phrase. Does it have more than one meaning? Where can I find this in my life? Can I make it magical or comical or tragic? Can I make a commentary about it? Will I have to stage something or will I be able to find it naturally? What was the most obvious subject and then can I think around it? I also considered any techniques I could use. Blur for speed or extreme close-up for detail? What time of day would work best? Where should the light come from? What’s in the background? Which direction are the lines and angles around the subject in relation to it? Most of all, I always had to keep the prompt in the forefront of my mind. If the perfect moment ambushed me, I needed to be ready to capture it. I often thought about the prompts several days in advance. I don’t make fast decisions in any other aspect of my life and the days I was “unprepared” for the prompt, I usually had to take a photo quickly and ended up feeling very unsatisfied with it.
I wanted many of my photos to tell a story. I wanted them to be a visual reminder of what was happening in life at the time. Sometimes my photos were just simple shots that were taken because of their aesthetic value. But there were many photos that revolved around work or the places I traveled to. Some photos tried to express how I was feeling that day or a significant event that had happened.
This was not the first photo I took this day. I had originally taken a classic black and white photo of the ordinary contents of my fridge. But when I arrived home after work that day, the dogs had given me another idea. What used to be inside my fridge was now outside my fridge. As a funny sidenote, we have two dogs and we were pretty sure it was the hound that was the troublemaker but our suspicions were confirmed when we found his dog tag caught on the shelf lying on the floor.
Our hot water was out for an entire week. The day that we got it back (March 21) was a beautiful, beautiful day.
Oh…this day. Nothing spectacular happened. It was just an especially warm day after a long, cool spring and I officially went from cozy, winter Malbecs, to cool, refreshing Pinot Grigios. A day that could easily be forgotten. But every time I look at this picture, I remember how glorious and restful that day was. For me, this photo reminds me that somedays, all is right with the world.
I realize that this photo may be considered tasteless by some. A transgression of decorum or an invasion of privacy. But the truth is I never want to forget my grandfather. And through this project, I also learned that it is important to document the sad parts of life too. Because life isn’t always wonderful and maybe we do want to forget some of the hurtful or tragic parts but we also need to remember how much stronger we are because of those times. It was difficult to take my camera out during these times and those informed of my project were my shield, helping me take discreet photos to get the perfect shot. Documenting this sad time was too important to me to bend to social and familial pressure of being “proper”. I stayed focused and looked carefully for the one photo and captured it. In retrospect, I am immensely sorry that I did not get a photo, for my own personal remembrance, of my grandfather’s casket at the cemetery, draped with the Canadian flag, adorned with poppies and his World War II medals. I don’t have that shot because of etiquette. However, photos during difficult times can be therapeutic, if done respectfully and appropriately.
Of course, I tried to take photos that would not only tell a part of my life but that would also resonate with a greater audience. This was my personal project but one creates art in order to express and reach others. Basically, I wanted people to like my photos, not just for validation of some sort of skill or vision but as a sign that I was succeeding in my goal to create art – expression, communication, emotion, values and ideas through purely aesthetic considerations. One thing that I found interesting was how people interpreted them. Some photos I thought were cop-outs were some of the most “liked”. Some photos that I love were not as powerful to others. I started looking at other people’s photographs in a new way. What are they trying to express? Communicate to me? What is the hidden message? It is a window into the lives, hearts and minds of other photographers. They inspired me to try new things and to think in new ways. I hoped I could do the same to those looking at my photos.
Over the year, I learned a lot about not just the creative art of photography but also the technique of creating a beautiful shot. My starting point was on the site that publishes the lists. Fat Mum Slim wrote some quick and informative blogs about photography techniques and how to use them on an iphone. She talked about light, macro shots, how to get perspective, how to use negative space to create visual interest and explained the Rule of Thirds. From there, I simply googled iPhoneography and found other interesting sites that had useful tips on the ins and outs of the phone camera. I also tried new apps that also fueled my creativity. I have a folder on my phone now with all my photo apps – Instagram, Slow Shutter, Diptic, Pro HDR X and Camera+. It was not unusual for me to take 10 photos of the same thing and then work with them in these apps until I got the shot that I wanted. Some may say using apps is cheating because it’s not the skill of the photographer manipulating the light, framing the perfect composition, etc. But I treated the apps like artists’ tools – manipulating the images only so that the story was better told.
These photos are a record of my feelings, thoughts and events of one full year. I made them into a book and now when I look through them, I can, in an instant, remember that day. There was a TED talk by Cesar Kuriyama about his project “One Second Every Day”. He videoed one second of every day and compiled them into a video with no filters, no transitions, just authentic video. His reason for such a project was because he was tired of forgetting what he did in his life. He said something that really resonated with me. He said that he doesn’t want to forget what happens in his life, but neither does he want to be that person who sees life through a lens. He wants to truly be in the moment and that taking just one second of video allows him to do that. He takes his video and then puts his camera away. He can enjoy the moment truly being there in relationship to everything and everyone around him but he still has a one second momento to remind him of it, days, weeks, months or years later. I have found great freedom in taking this photo a day. I find that I no longer annoy people with the “Hold that! Let me take a picture of it!” anymore. That one picture takes me back to that day and all the things that happened that are worth remembering. A photo a day is all you need.
If you liked these photos, you can see other photos I’ve taken on Instagram at Steph_the_Wayward_Pilgrim.
Here are some others from that year.