The worst was when I took some pictures that I thought would be good, but that came out blurry, missed a few that I really regretted, and ended up posting an artful-ish shot of a bunch of hot sauce bottles from the restaurant where I ate dinner. I felt really deflated that night, as the hot sauce photo seemed to pale in comparison to all of the great things that had happened that day and that I failed to photograph successfully. I thought seriously about giving up.
I’m glad I didn’t. The photo ended up stirring lots of discussion with and support from friends and colleagues on Facebook, which reminded of why I’m doing this project in the first place and which really helped me reset my perspective and attitude. In particular, it sparked an exchange with my friend, Nancy White. (More on this below.)
I’m doing this to practice my photography and storytelling skills. I don’t know if I’ll get through the whole year, but I’m proud and amazed that I got through 31 days. I haven’t spent an inordinate amount of time on the project, but I also haven’t been mailing it in either. I’ve been good about carrying my camera with me, and on days when I have nothing (four in January), I’ve been creative in making photographs. Almost a third of my photos (nine) were taken inside either my apartment or my parents’ house, so I’ve been forced to be creative often.
I love the resulting journal of my life — it evokes happy memories, and it reminds me of the full month that I’ve had and all the people with whom I spent quality time. (23 friends and colleagues made it into last month’s set!) I’m also loving the conversation the project is generating among my friends and colleagues, both on social media and in real life. Shockingly, people find my pictures more interesting than my ramblings on high-performance collaboration. The project is also eliciting a lot of wonderful personal stories from others, further validating the power of pictures.
I don’t think I’ve taken a single great picture this month, but the tracking is helping me recognize what I’m doing well and what I still need to work on. I am much more conscious of light and composition than I was two years ago. I shot two pictures with flash (once on-camera and once off), and I manipulated the external light in two shots, including the aforementioned clock shot.
I’m proudest of my shot of Elena Salazar above. Elena had these great arm tattoos, including one that said, “California,” and another that said, “Family.” Given the nature of the gathering, I asked her if I could take a picture of her with the latter. I chose the background thoughtfully, taking into account the bright colors and also the kids painted on the wall. I chose a wide enough aperture to blur out the background, but also clearly see her tattoo (although I probably could have stopped down the aperture a little more), and I focused on her eyes. I paid a lot of attention to crafting that shot, leveraging skills and instincts that have evolved over the past year.
In general, I’m finding myself more mindful of moments. It’s also been a great impetus for me to get out of the house. But more than anything, it’s reminded me of the importance of practice, of having a learning mindset, of letting go of judgment, and of focusing on craft and process. It’s strange and humbling to have to be reminded of this, given that it’s such a focus of my work, but it’s making me better at everything I do.
Up until our recent exchange, I don’t think Nancy knew how much her own efforts were inspiring me to keep at it. She has a great attitude about everything she does, and this project has been no exception. I watched her plugging away consistently, even though she was traveling halfway across the world for work and using her cell phone and a cracked tablet. It motivated me to suck it up and keep capturing and posting.
Learning in public can feel incredibly vulnerable, but Nancy has never been shy about it, and the rest of us get to benefit from that in everything she does. Earlier today, she posted these wonderful reflections about her project, including some excerpts from our exchange. I particularly loved her learning recap around attention, identity, and practice.
But forget about her process. Her personality and her values shine through from her photos. I see color and whimsy as well as her love of food and art and the outdoors. I see that she’s been working a lot, but I’m also glad to see that she’s walking with friends and in nature. Her pictures of the water in the fog are moody, surreal, and calming, and they make me want to be in the northwest right now.
I love what I’ve been learning from this process so far, and I loved how it’s unexpectedly brought me closer to my community. Let’s see if I can make it through February!