Photography is serious business. I shouldn’t be having so much fun 😉
Apologies for the title 😉 Also, please understand detox in a non judgemental way. This post isn’t about explaining how creating a photobook magically cleans up and elevates anyone’s mind. It’s a purely personal account, in the hope that the joy of this simple project may spread to others in a receptive state of mind.
Maybe I’ve been taking photography a bit too seriously lately.
Deciding not to take gear seriously is serious business. It takes argumentation that the mind who produces it doesn’t wholly believe in. Deciding to get printing, for the love of the artistic final product over the menial considerations of resolution and ISO, stirs up its own drudgery of ink selection and profiling. And even creating a photobook triggers corners of the intellectual mind that are maybe best left in the shadows: subject, style, consistency, layout …
The fact is I do – and believe that most of us do – my/our best work when I’m/we are having fun. Enjoying the process rather than fighting it.
Before this gets too serious again, let’s put a pin in best work, lest it self-inflate and pull along a whole thread of serious business such as selection, curation, message, …
By best work, I mean most thrilling. Most engaging. The work – is that even the proper term? – that makes me want to give up actual work that pays bills to keep going at it, makes me grin like a kid who sill believes in the ho ho ho forbidden child of the catholic church and Coca-Cola, while still making interesting and important subjects fire up my neurons.
Let me tell you a Christmas fairy tale. It wasn’t in a beautiful cabin in the woods and I wasn’t hiding from a life of rich but ultimately boring work in the family business to save the magic of the holiday spirit in a dying rural village, as Netflix seasonal shows seem to obsess about. I was deleting junk mail on my settee, eating too much cake, drinking too much vintage Taylor’s.
This Matisseo ad popped up. 65% off the 1 day 1 photo book. 35€ instead of 100€, until XX date. Having just received a Matisseo ebook made 4 years late with my Japan photos, I took the bait. Now, as all good creatives, I’m Sponsored by Squarespace. Or would be, if this blog wasn’t hosted by WordPress and if it attracted only 28 times more traffic. This to explain I’m not sponsored by Matisseo. This is not an endorsement or an influmercial ™. Only a story.
Anyway, payment opened up access to the app you see in the first picture on this page. That and a simple daily prompt to add a photo to the list, until Dec 31st. After which the resulting book would be printed and sent out to me (presumably with a list of expensive last-minute options being offered).
The idea of aligning a set of 365 of my best photos over the year immediately appealed to me. If one good print is satisfying, imagine what multiple hundreds can do.
But, right from day 1, that’s not what happened. When came the time to choose that inaugural photograph, the one that best represented the first day of the year (during which we took a family walk and “discovered” a cave on a map that we had never seen), considerations soon steered away from best or most beautiful to most memorable.
That’s when the project started being fun 🙂
The photo “Entering the cave”, above, was my first candidate. It’s a nice photo, with nice colours (something I am trying to work on, lately) celebrating an exciting moment, and a solid composition. And I took multiple others showing my wife and daughter wriggling through the crevice, down into the cave.
But it was “Inside the cave” that our jaws dropped once our eyes had adapted to the dark. Using our phones as torches and wet rock as tripod for this long exposure, I got something less formally beautiful but which captures a part of my family along with a sense of discovery, micro-adventure and thrill, that far better suits a 1 day 1 photo concept.
It doesn’t sound like much, but finding that balance between photographically interesting and memorable is a lot of fun.
Lately, I’ve been battling the feeling that my photographs are technically OK but ultimately empty of meaning.
And, as usual, all grand questions never find an answer on a cosmic scale (not in my case, at least) but tend to loosen up and reveal glimses of promised truth when tackled from the tiniest, most personal perspective. I suppose the Think Global Act Local adage is a similar thing.
And this simple and joyful exercise of finding the best pic to represent one family hike day did just that. If the photograph is meaningful to me, that’s good enough. Some will relate, others won’t, and that’s fine for now.
Jan 2 saw me walking next to the house with my daughter to test the red filter process featured in my previous post. The red square was one of the few I hadn’t yet converted to B&W and became the natural candidate for that day. I love it to bits. It’s visually striking, and a great memory of a great day.
On Jan 3, my daughter flew back to London, and the airport, as often, was shrouded in mist. I took photos but didn’t use them and instead found one from a previous – summer – visit during which the smog was far worse and used that. Second realisation. Just as the selected photo doesn’t have to be the “best”, it doesn’t have to be taken on that day, provided it was representative of that day, and memorable. This isn’t photojournalism. It’s photo journaling.
Jan 4. My wife has just given up a part of her work, reducing her weekly hours first from 72 to 56 and now to 40. We went for a walk. On a week day!! This is her strolling through a forest in our village, rediscovering a sense of freedom in life.
Jan 5. A new boundary for me. An aerial photo of a protest in Paris organised to save healthcare in France and which my wife attended. Definitely not a Happy Christmas tale. Nor is it even my photo, but it is so important to our lives and values that it got in, and will be remembered through the little book.
Jan 6. I took a photo of the garden. But later removed it. See below.
Jan 7. Visiting a relative in Aubagne, I photographed the area next to railway lines, where old buildings have very recently been torn down. That stark phone image became the nominee for the day. Then the unimportant Jan 6 image was replaced with one of the area before the demolition, to show a before and after comparison. I wouldn’t have changed Jan 6 if the two hadn’t faced one another on the same page spread.
Jan 8 saw me frustrated about staying home all day. Hence a pic of a closed cupboard door. For Jan 9, I was thinking of a screengrab of this post to mark the day but it doesn’t look nice. So I set out to make a photo of flowers specifically for this. There’s nothing like a bit of Mandler love.
Why is this so much fun?
Because it makes me think about ways to represent an idea, or look for the best moments in the day, and break self-imposed rules. As I wrote to a friend in a private email exchange, “paper doesn’t care what camera took the photo”. Only the photo matters. And, thanks to the brilliantly simplistic interface, the only decision to make, once a day, is memory-related.
This shift from gear, technique & processing, to memories, is so freeing. Matching your page to your recollection, deliberately ignoring quality and other crippling left-brain considerations, is so freeing. Focusing on conveying something is so exciting. And so fun. Except for the sad days, discussing which image to put into the book – that low commitment, cheap and easy, year-long project, is often giggle-inducing.
They never told me photography could be fun … 😉
And it’s still serious fun. I’m not goofing around. I’m thinking about me, flipping through the pages in 5 years time, thinking about what I’ll want to remember, what made my life worth living 5 years back, looking for the most representative image for the job among a list of candidates, waking up in the morning asking myself what, in my day, will be photogenic, forcing me to notice otherwise-neglected scenes or ideas encountered during a normal workday. I’m loving it 🙂
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