*CAUTION: LOTS OF WORDS TO FOLLOW! THIS IS AS MUCH FOR ME AS ANYTHING ELSE, BUT I HOPE YOU HAVE A FEW MINUTES TO READ…
As the screenshot above suggests, this is officially the end (of my 365 project at least). If you’ll indulge me, I think I need to spend a little time exploring the results, both in terms of the photos themselves, and what I learnt along the way.
I made it!
Motivations and outcomes
A year ago, I made what seemed a daunting decision – to commence this 365 project. A photo a day for a year. There were a number of reasons for this, but mostly they came back to my own dissatisfaction with my work, and with my momentum as an artist. I had lost my drive. Looking back prior to this project, I had used my camera maybe half a dozen times in the first three quarters of 2012. For someone who claimed to enjoy photography as much as I did, this just wasn’t working. I had a cupboard full of awesome camera equipment, including some of the best lenses and camera bodies made by Nikon and Olympus, and they were just sitting there. I needed a reason. And this is one of my first learnings from the project – my practice as an artist, and perhaps that of other artists as well – is essentially an act of communication. Like any communication, you can’t just speak into a void and expect that to be a rewarding and sustaining activity! I needed to be saying something, and I needed a reason to share it. Most of all though, I needed you – someone to communicate with, beyond my immediate network of family and friends. Over this year, my awareness of this process, and my awareness of exactly what it is that I want to say, have been sharpened more than I would ever have imagined starting out. Thank you.
The next thing that this project has taught me is the power of constraint. I think that (for me at least) creativity without limits isn’t possible. My creativity seems to be linked to my capacity for divergent thought… by that I mean my capacity to think around a problem, rather than being restricted by it. I think everyone has this ability, but because it’s a skill, it needs practice – this year and this project have provided a clear reason to engage in this type of thinking. By limiting my choice of equipment to only prime lenses (technical constraint), and then further limiting my blog to only those images that I believed were evocative of something – perhaps a mood, perhaps a narrative, perhaps a time, place, or song – (creative constraint) I have had to focus my work and problem-solve. On the times when I’ve gone out shooting with only one lens in my bag, my sense of frustration at not having the right ‘tool’ for the image I see in front of me has quickly faded, as I learn to see differently. I’ve been forced out of patterns and habits, in terms of how I shoot and in terms of how I see and capture the world around me. This has been one of the most powerful outcomes of this project for me, and is something that will always play a role in my future creative endeavours – creativity within constraint.
Telling stories and learning not to doubt that
The third thing that I’ve learnt, and for me perhaps the most exciting, has been to switch off the filter in my head that stopped me taking photos because they didn’t seem to fit my idea of myself as an artist. When I started, my focus shifted from being a landscape artist, to telling stories. Stories are everywhere around us; sometimes they are there in the neatly plowed fields under a wild sky, sometimes there are there when the fisherman at the end of the pier shows a capacity to stand still for an entire two-minute exposure. As a consequence of this shift in emphasis, I’ve posted images that I would never even have seen a year ago. If you were to ask me what kind of artist I was a year ago, my answer would have been easy – I was a landscape photographer. Now, my answer would be different – I’m a storyteller. I have found this expansion of my practice to be both exciting, and just a little challenging. It means I’m always seeing images, and not always when I have a camera handy. (Actually, that’s another thing I’ve learnt – always have a camera handy. Any camera will do!) I would like to acknowledge my excellent and amazingly creative wife Sharon at this point – often when I was falling back into a safety zone, Sharon would just insert a small comment – “You haven’t had any shots with people in them for a while” – which would shift me out of the pattern and back into that challenging point of free movement. So this is something I will always take from this project, and makes it a singularly powerful experience in my creative development – switch off the filter. For me, I tell stories. What is it that you do?
Now, for the fellow techie photographers out there, a few short points about equipment. Prime lenses absolutely rock. That is all. Actually, there’s a little more to say. Again, I think this is about constraint leading to opportunity – with a prime lens, aperture becomes a decision rather than a restriction. Composition becomes deliberate. The technical quality of the shots becomes almost transparent – there is nothing between you and the image. If you’ve shot with a consumer-oriented zoom, and then a prime of similar price, you’ll know what I mean – there’s a vaguely perceptible sense of something veiling the transmission of light that is just not there with good primes. Lots of folk out there will suggest starting with a 50mm prime (because they are generally relatively inexpensive) and that might work for you, but for me, my focal length that feels most like home is 35mm. I have a 35mm prime for all three of my camera systems. Perhaps this is because back in the film days I learnt on an old beaten up Pentax with only a 35mm lens? Not sure. If you want to give this a go, you don’t need to go out and buy a new lens though – just grab your standard zoom lens (mostly an 18-55mm I’d suggest) and tape it to a particular zoom setting. Shoot at only that setting for a week and see what this does to your composition, and your pre-visualisation of your shots. Worked for me, anyway.
One more technical point (and for this I beg your indulgence) – the other thing that really (really) changed for me this year was my skill in processing my own images. Having the regular discipline of posting meant an accompanying discipline of processing. Most nights I would set aside between ten minutes and half an hour to sift through potential images, and play. Sometimes the way forward was clear and processing was simple, but on other occasions, a bit of random experimentation led to something new, and different, that I really liked. About half way through the 365 days, I discovered VSCO, and their Lightroom presets, and this really gave me a shortcut to the images I saw in my head, but even then, these are useful as a foundation, rather than an outcome. I love VSCO because it reminds me that contrast is a good thing, and so is saturation, and tone, and character! The other thing I’m still learning with regard to processing is that sometimes the best thing to do with an image is just leave it alone… I really enjoy now the interaction that seems to happen for me – often I used to imagine images as finished works, but lacked the technical skills to actually realise them in post-production. Now, I seem to have reached a happy medium between seeing the end product when capturing the image on some days, and being pleasantly surprised by results I hadn’t anticipated on others. That’s not to suggest, of course, that things always turn out as I might like. In all of this, there are two quotes worth keeping in mind. The first is that classic Ansel Adams statement: “You don’t take a photograph, you make it”. I’m not concerned with showing the world ‘as it was’, and I have even less time now for those who would suggest that ‘straight out of the camera’ is the only way images should be shown (after all, this just means you’re delegating responsibility for processing to the camera itself). When you move away from representing the world ‘as it was’ to the world as you experience it, anything becomes possible. This is to some extent counteracted by the second quote that is worth remembering, by musician Jack Brewer: “Once the music leaves your head, it’s already compromised”. Adapted to any form of arts practice, I read this as an awareness of the limitations of our medium, and the difficulty in capturing something as difficult, complex, and exciting as a thought. At the end of the day, representation is all we have, and that’s fine with me.
Learning from data
About you, and data…
One of the nice things about WordPress is the stats! It took me a while to really find them, and a little longer to learn how to read them, but given that I’m at least partly a researcher in my day job, I’m a fan of data! So here goes – some of the interesting things I’ve learnt:
- Across the year, this blog had about 10 and a half thousand views… or 29 views per day. There were also 623 comments, but a fair portion of them were mine!
- The most popular topics that I wrote about (according to tags on the posts) were VSCO Film, Olympus OM-D (my EM-5 is close to my heart, and just perfect for 365 projects in my view!), Tasmania, nature, patterns, and green. I think that’s about right actually, when I think about my photographic interests!
- 319 people follow this blog. Thanks to each and every one of you!
- Over half of the views here were from Australia. The next country was USA, followed by the UK, Canada, and Italy. What I love is that I have a pretty good idea who counts for most of those views in each case – and I thank you WordPress folk including (but not limited to) Lois, Jennie (there from Day 1 almost!), David, Rob, Klaudia, Paul, Snowpartridge, Lynda, Adele, Malin, Lynn, Ehpem, Mike, T Smith, Luke, and Johnny, along with the friends and family who tell me they are regular but silent watchers!
- My most viewed page was Day 279, and the least viewed was Day 153. Pretty funny, since my main comment on 153 was to note that I really wasn’t sure about it – clearly I was right to be unsure!
- The most ‘liked’ post, by some margin, was Day 297, a curly little macro shot from Cradle Mountain. I guess it combines a few things that I am confident with. This also gives me some more momentum going forward, which is important given I’m in the process, with the talented Kylie Eastley, of seeking an exhibition of this style of work.
Actually this brings me to the last thing I wanted to discuss with you (and I thank you for reading the 1874 words to this point!)…
Where to from here?
Short answer – I’m undecided.
My first thought was to make this a project 1000 – after all, I’m still really enjoying it, I have plenty of images still to share, and I feel like I’m just beginning to learn about composition, processing, and myself as an artist. I’ve started to find my voice, and have made some wonderful connections through this site. I don’t want to stop.
But this project needs to end. I think now is the best time to do that; I’m still positive about it, I still want to make art, and I still want to explore the limits of my equipment, my processing abilities, and most importantly my creative vision and storytelling. But I think I can do all of those things, without extending this. Perhaps this will mean I have more time to really focus – produce work that takes more than 24 hours to finish? Perhaps I’m best to keep working in what is largely an intuitive process. Let’s find that out, together, through what comes next.
I do want to acknowledge the last 365 days, too, in some way. Just now I have the folder with all of the finished images in it open on my second monitor, and there are some there that I really quite like – in the daily push for new vision, I haven’t really spent a lot of time going back through. In the next couple of days, I might do a series of retrospectives – my favourite shot from each month, and then my favourite shot of all. Feel free to ignore them, if you’ve already seen enough! I also promised myself on Day 1 that an outcome of this would be an actual physical book. I still think photos are meant to be printed, viewed, a physical, tangible thing. Will it be every image? Unlikely – there is that problematic Day 153 after all! There is also potential for an exhibition here I suspect – again, not everything, but a selection. That might be drawn along thematic lines – there are certainly clear patterns across the project. Or perhaps chronology might offer some opportunities here? What are your thoughts about this? Is there anything in particular that stands out to you, about the body of work and how it’s been put together?
I’ve thought about new projects. Some of these I think I’ll do. One is an idea called ‘Take one lens’… I’ll put all of my lenses (well, their names at least) in a bag and draw one out. I’ll shoot with that lens only for a period of time, and see what I can produce. For some lenses, that might take a week. For others, it might be a day, or a month, until I really understand how they work. I’ll post the findings, and perhaps some of the workings, here. Maybe this might involve some form of review of the lenses too. But there are already plenty of those about, and let’s face it, I’m not sure I really have the expertise of a Ming Thein to make these worth your while!
But that’s not all I’ll do.
I think my bigger project is going to really try to explore and experiment with this idea of telling stories, or inviting stories – finding points of tension or evocation, that encourage a viewer to fill in the gaps, find their own resolution. This kind of project will, I suspect, draw upon my methodology and techniques from the last 12 months. It certainly needs constraint, as a guiding principle. I’ll set out to follow the same basic guidelines – prime lenses only. Shoot as often as possible. Share as often as possible. Perhaps this might mean no images on some days, and a thematic collection on another? Let’s see how it goes.
But I think these projects might work in tandem – one more technical, the other more creative – although of course such distinctions are largely arbitrary and artificial in any case. But please, if you want to, do watch this space. I would really love to continue this journey and these conversations with you by my side.
For those who are currently engaged in a 365 project, or those considering it, my advice would be to go for it. I’ve learnt more about photography, and writing, and myself as an artist, than I had ever hoped for.
And with that in mind, tomorrow I might have a day off from this blog – my first in 365 days.
I’ll leave tomorrow to you.
What will you say?