Now that I am no longer a professional photographer, I can finally take photographs: one or more/day, for the 365 days in 2012.
During my early days in photography, I was drawn to the play of natural light, strong graphics, and the opportunity to document real life as it unfolded before me. As my career took off, I began to specialize in editorial assignments for large corporations, national and regional magazines, and academia. The work afforded me a fair degree of creative freedom, but the need for off-camera strobes, client approval, and idealized images of reality, destroyed much of my enthusiasm. I stopped taking personal pictures and never picked up a camera unless I was getting paid to do so.
The idea to take at least one picture a day for an entire year is hardly new or original, but for me, it marks a return to my original romance with photography fifty years ago. The pocket-size, consumer-grade digital camera I now use, Panasonic’s Lumix DMC-FH20* makes the daily exercise eminently doable: no 30-40 lb. camera bag to lug around or lights to set up, break-down, and then put away; no wait for the film to be developed or cost concerns; and no one else to please except myself. The camera itself has its limitations (e.g., no manual controls, focus issues, and a shutter delay that’s problematic for people candids), but that’s OK — there are plenty of things it does quite well.
At home, I find a plentitude of mundane objects that are all too happy to pose for me — often at 3:00 in the morning. Sometimes, they play an almost incidental role in a formal composition or color study, a serendipitous creation that only becomes apparent — and appreciated — through the lens and framing of a camera. Other times, their prosaic nature is transformed through photographic alchemy into an “otherness” that takes me to a new dimension — not unlike what happens with a microscope. The “aha” experience that comes from finding beauty in an unremarkable object, or that the viewer has upon discovering the nature of the actual subject, is a rare and wondrous treat.
Occasionally, I feel a bit guilty at the ease of producing images I find so satisfying. In my commercial work, the moment when the shutter was released was almost anti-climactic, so much laborious preparation had taken place beforehand to ensure a successful image. Now, only seconds elapse from the time I pick up the camera to seeing the result and having instant gratification (most of the time). Aside from weeding out the throwaways, and minor adjustments in Photoshop (e.g., light levels, cropping, color balancing, resizing, sharpening, and image rotation every now and then), there just isn’t that much effort! It’s art as play, creativity as daily nourishment. Last night, while prone in bed before falling asleep, I photographed my eyeglasses on the night stand. Some mornings, I’m taking pictures while still under the blankets. It’s hard to tear myself away once I get started.
I photograph my own body, not because I’m infatuated with it, but because it happens to be handy. Those particular images explore the idea that we are biological creatures just like any other animal, to be examined with the scientific detachment common to any research. Rather than idealize the human physique, I’m drawn to its imperfections as it ages — liver spots and all. I also enjoy making photographs that appear erotic, pornographic, or NSFW at first glance but which are perfectly innocent in what they depict — a kind of visual joke, along with others, you’ll find at Pixetera from time to time. Sorry if this disappoints, but I have no plans to post anything that doesn’t rate a “G” for General Audiences.
Twenty-one days into this project, I have some worries: burning out; how to stay fresh and not repeat myself or settle for the easy picture; becoming obnoxious about taking photos everywhere; losing my spontaneity; succumbing to an addiction that consumes my life. Only time will tell I guess.
In the meantime, I think I’m a painter at heart.
UPDATE: For 2013, Pixetera has a slightly different format. Please see Looking Backward and Forward at Once for more details.
*UPDATE: Nikon Coolpix L620 in 2017.