Last Updated on 01/02/2015 by Julius Motal
As I bounced up and down on my feet in the freezing cold at a bus stop in Arlington, MA, I caught sight of a hopeful message writ small in the vestibule. It was January 1, the first day of my 365-day project, and I had yet to make my first photograph for the year. I didn’t go into the project with any theme or style. Rather, I would focus on making one solid image each day, and at that bus stop, where the temperature was in the teens, I found my image.
With a few days to go before the start of 2014, I decided on a whim to embark on a 365 photo project to take
my photography from the realm of the occasional into daily practice. I would often go days or weeks without shooting, and when I did photograph, the results were negligible. In 2009, I picked up my first camera, an Olympus OM77-AF, but it wasn’t until this year that I began to move past the mechanics of image making, that is to say shutter speed, aperture, ISO and composition.
My main goal was to make emotionally resonant images, or as close to emotionally resonant as possible. I was able to make mechanically sound images that fell flat because they didn’t say anything. I conducted this project within certain parameters. Firstly, each image I posted had to be made that day. I couldn’t queue up a week’s worth of images that I made on one day, as some have suggested. Secondly, the image had to be posted by 11:59pm. Those two were the main rules. What and where I photographed were largely governed by the day’s circumstances.
Looking back nearly a year later, the first month was largely unsatisfying as I tried to figure out the types of images I wanted to make and where I wanted this project to go. If I were take these images into an editing session now, I would toss out nearly all of them. There were some signs of hope in February, more in March and more in April. As each month faded into the next, I found that my ability to discern images in the moment increased significantly, and while they weren’t all hits, they were necessary moments of growth.
One of my biggest takeaway from this project was an acute understanding of awareness. Oftentimes, I found myself standing on street corners for prolonged periods of time, watching people move along their paths and how they moved as they moved. I’d look for moments of intersection between person and place. Awareness is a multifaceted idea in photography. It isn’t just spatial awareness. I became better at being emotionally aware, both in trying to understand what my subject’s feeling and how that will translate in the frame.
The other major takeaway was anticipation. There is almost always an image that is about to happen. Awareness and anticipation have a symbiotic relationship. I had to be aware of what has happening around me, and I had to anticipate where everything was moving and how those elements would work together in the frame. I also had to make sure I was in the right position to make the photograph. There were myriad images I had to toss because I wasn’t in the right place.
Those takeaways may not seem particularly revelatory to many, but they are things that I could only learn in practice. Listening to other photographers and looking at their work was tremendously beneficial, but it wouldn’t have meant anything had I not gone out and photographed. It was through daily practice that I learned what other photographers espouse as essential aspects of photography, photographers who have been doing this far longer than I have.
Of course, an important thing I learned, too, was that the images have to matter to me. There were days when I came close to quitting because it felt like I was reaching for water in a well that had dried up, but thanks to the encouragement of some close friends, I persisted. The only way I could dig myself out of a rut was to keep photographing, so that I could find an image better than the last one I made.
What 2015 holds, I couldn’t say, but I know that I’ll be photographing daily, though I won’t be putting everything online. I’ll be more project-focused next year as I want to build a narrative through photography. This foto365 was more of a visual diary than anything, a daily log of what I experienced that day. I don’t think I’ll try this sort of thing again, though it was a necessary experience, one that has informed my craft greatly and one that I’ll return to in the days, months and years ahead.
There’s a long road ahead of me, and I’ve taken 365 steps.