Michael Coghlan is one of those people I have known so long online that I forgot how/where we met. We have spent time together in his home of Adelaide, Australia. When? What were we doing?
The memory is fuzzy, but I can get the info because I have photos of that time. It was October 20, 2006, on a walk in the hill country outside of town.
I know too that Michael has traveled a lot in the US — because we have a semi-regular exchange of comments through flickr photos. He drops a comment on my photos every other week or so; and I do the same mainly trying to figure out Where in the World is Michael. He takes a lot of street photos, photos of people of different cultures. I see his world through his photos.
“So you’re a photographer Michael?”
“No. I’m an Anthrogeographer.”
“Someone who photographs people and places and how they interact.”
A Regular Thing
Tonight after dinner I will open up this laptop and do what is easily the most rewarding and satisfying thing I do, what I have done almost every night back to 2008.
I will connect my camera and then my phone to the computer, transfer the pictures, and start reviewing/processing them. I have been doing a daily photo project and post my pick for the day to a flickr group– since following the lead in 2007 of D’Arcy Norman (more on the story).
Tomorrow, I will reset for my 10th year of doing this:
This year and 2015 I will notch the exact daily total, but in years past I have “failed” — in quotes because my goal is not to have a perfect record, but to have a regular practice that I try. No one cares if you take 365 in a year or 238 (me in 2012).
I will reset the name of the 366 Photos Group, and comb through the group pool to find new images for the icon and header image:
There are 1467 members who have shared 211,291 photos here – that is not insignificant. It might be odd to call this a “group” or a “community”. There are generally like 5 messages posted to the discussion area; and my responses are often months late. No one really goes to this space, but they do keep joining and adding photos.
It reminds me of my experiences in participating in the photo shoot workshops we had offered years ago when I was at NMC. You spend a whole day with a group of people in a location, sometimes spread out, sometimes shoulder to shoulder, but often with little conversation. But it’s that proximity to others doing the same thing you enjoy that feels comforting in a counter intuitive way. If you analyzed it, you might think it’s anti-social or not communal, but when you get to see each others photos, and the imaginative way others saw the same things you were looking at differently– it can be very communal.
In my daily photo review (I will stay up til 3am doing this to avoid letting the flow back up) my first pass is to discard ones I don’t want and then edit the others. I touch almost every photo, a gentle crop, a nudge of the levels, sharpen, sometimes enhance (I use Silver Efex Pro for black and white, part of the free Google Nik collection and Intensify CK for sometimes HDR or color play).
I prefer to say I am “making photographs” rather than “taking photographs” — the latter to me suggests “snap and upload.”
Again and again my average is to discard two thirds of the ones I take.
Then I go back again, and write titles, captions, and add tags (I still use old Aperture)– when I upload to flickr, all that info goes with it, but I keep the data in my grips. I then pick the one I want to tag and add to the flickr group.
The real joy is seeing often something in the photo I did not notice when I took the picture. Sometimes the joy is coming up with witty title, or writing a short story as a caption. Often the pick of the day is not what I would have guessed before.
It’s my titles, captions, and tags which assist my memory when I am trying to remember when I was in a certain place, or with certain people, and that connected with flickr’s time stamping, makes my photo stream an important personal tool in writing and communicating. You cannot use your photos as a marker for your own history if the only data you have for them is a title like IMG_9809.JPG
You do not have a usable history if all your photos flow just to Instagram. I challenge anyone to find a photo in their own stream from say, 2 years ago, or that time you were in ______, or shared a meal with _______. You have no ability to search your own photos, all you can do is scroll, and scroll, and scroll.
That said, I have taken to posting to Instagram this year. My process is to do this before sleep, I open my flickr app so find a photo that I repost to Instagram (nothing is in Instagram I cannot find in flickr), trying to make it different from my photo of the day. And I do have some enjoyment scanning what other people are posting. It’s a window to their world.
I also post my own favorites to my “photography portfolio” site I call Barking Dog Studios
My process is to regularly mark my picks for this in Aperture with a 5 star rating, and every other month or so, I export these image, and add them to my site. I have this wordpress site rigged where all I need to do is drag a photo to the composition window (it uploads), then write the title, add categories and tags, and publish. My custom scripts generate the description from the meta data info in the image.
Every now and then I do add some writing to some of the photos, where I describe what I was thinking about or what went into the creation of the image- I call it Inside the Photo
This year I had 6 photos selected for flickr’s Explore — 2 were taken with my iPhone.
Much More than the Photos
It’s the act of taking/making photos that is most meaningful, not the photos themselves.
When I have taught digital storytelling some of my favorite remarks from students was that from small exercises like looking for interesting shadows, or textures, or taking pictures into the sun, or cropping a sign — these little daily exercises has the result of them noticing their world in a way they did not before.
They end up looking for sharp light in the mornings and evenings, or using the diffuse lighting of a cloudy day. But mostly what they are doing is looking more intently at the world around them, and seeing it, rather than walking around absorbed in their phones, or just not being aware.
I know this in my own practice. I count 3106 daily photos (and many more taken along the way) and 80% are from my home or my 1/3 of an acre. Yet I never fail to find something new. Many days I am out walking, like this morning it was overcast, rainy, muddy, and I thought, “What will I find today?” And then I am amazed on a walk I have done hundreds of times how I can see something new.
It’s very much in the vein of what D’Arcy Norman wrote long ago as Mindful Seeing. I can say, when in the act of looking for my photos, or out on walk, my mind is not intently focused, but very relaxed, and all those “stuff I gotta do” thoughts are gone.
It even rang true in a Vox piece I read today about one writers experiment with microdoses of LSD to counter internet addiction:
But with a microdose, there isn’t enough of an effect to kick off a religious awakening: The drug merely heightens one’s experience of the ordinary. It made me appreciate the mundane aspects of my life, the things I ordinarily ignored or took for granted. Richards suggests the same effects may be achieved by meditation, and that’s a good way to think about what microdosing felt like: It might make you more mindful, especially over time, and its cumulative effects might be revolutionary, even if the more immediate effects are rather subtle.
I find my photography habit does this, and is both cheaper and safer than LSD.
People can go on for years debating if photography is an art form or not. I could care less, but I do consider myself in the former camp.
Many times I might have a visualized image of what I will got (I am seldom correct). But often I have this tingling sense that “there is a photograph worth taking here” — it can be the light, it can be just noticing an interesting texture, or something out of place. I find it pays off to take the photo when that tingling happens. It’s almost like hearing a certain audio frequency that no one else can.
To me, it’s an act of artful cropping when I look through the camera and press the button. There is a vast amount of detail and information anyone can see with their eyes, but with the camera, I can emphasize, draw attention, create a highlight of all that in a smaller space. It’s focussing attention? And even if others are nearby with cameras, our photos are never exactly the same.
Because it’s not just the photo- it’s my presence, it’s my connection to the moment, it’s me there at a time, a place. And the photo I take, re-edit, add captions & titles, upload to flickr, all become like more neural connections to that moment.
A photographer named Will Nedders wrote something I bookmarked a while ago, intending someday to write this, In Sharpening Your Photographic Mind: The 2 Types of Photographers he outlines these extreme end cases of photographers:
The technological obsessions have spawned a huge mass of what I call “Type 1” photographers. Type 1 photographers are, more than anything else, technologists at heart. They are insanely interested in, and motivated by, the gadgets, gizmos, and objects behind photography. Their photographic eye is motivated by a sense of novelty—of capturing things in ever increasing technical perfection, and getting those “amazing single images” that seem to animate sites like Flickr and 500px.
Type 2 photographers are not pixel peepers by nature. They tire of the gear blogs, even if they dive in from time to time before they make purchases. They spend the majority of their time optimizing for very different types of personal development. And they tend to have a fundamental issue with Type 1 culture—put simply, that it is founded upon systemic discontent. If you convince yourself that great images are distinguished from lesser images by a measurement of megapixels, you have entered a special circle of Dante’s hell where you are doomed to a type of artistic identity crisis whenever better and better “gear” comes available that you do not possess. There is a tyrannical cycle at play in a world where you must measure by microns to determine your level of artistic competence—especially if the market for microns is spitting out new standards of “quality” every few weeks (and at prices that take months to years to responsibly afford).
Type 2 photographers are driven not by a search for technical perfection and visual novelty, but by a passion for discovery, insight, and exploration. They struggle to understand moods, the interconnectedness of human society, and obsess over what it means to tell a story or to illustrate a human idea.
It’s a bit of a setup (the writer acknowledges these are edge cases, and many people are hybrids)- but he writes this scenario (bear with the long quote in a long post, I am tired myself):
Consider two friends, a Type 1 and a Type 2 photographer, who travel to a working farm for a photographic assignment.
The Type 1 photographer brings his latest gear, refreshed only 8 months since his last major purchase, and has a bag loaded with lenses behind his seat. He’s got every fast zoom that covers all the major focal lengths, as well as some stunning primes. He has a top of the line tripod, several heads, and a case full of light modifiers and flash systems. Everything looks new, and is extremely well preserved and organized in a series of late model bags and cases. His gear, gathered around him like a brood of chicks around a mother duck, are a constant source of both inspiration and anxiety to him. Thinking about which piece of gear to deploy in one situation or another gives him a mental rush, while worrying about which zoom or prime would be ideal causes a firm anxiety and discontent.
He won’t know if he has an image to satisfy him until he gets home, downloads the cards, and has a chance to consider at 100% crop clarity, edge sharpness, and color rendering (even though he will live tether his camera to his tablet during the shoot).
The Type 2 photographer has only one small bag behind her seat. She’s got a good camera, though it’s a few years old by now, with a few high quality lenses. Her equipment, however, is beat to hell and looks much older, and less capable, than it actually is. Her notebooks aren’t filled with algorithms or light recipes, but instead, contains bullet points from her previous weeks of research into the farms, the people, and the culture of the region. She has let her curiosity guide her down a hundred rabbit trails in the last few weeks that ranged from agricultural economics, to the differences in family counseling between urban and rural relationships. She dug into local values, and even visited the region a few times to eat breakfast at the local meeting spots. Her cell phone has pictures of the magazine stand in the drug store on main street, in order to get an idea of what artistic and cultural influences the community embraces. She even has her notes from a few casual interviews she had set up with the farmer and some of the members of his family before she showed up with a camera.
Upon reaching the farm, the Type 1 photographer jumps from the truck and gets to work—there is much to do. Tripods are set up, locations scouted, and lighting equipment is pre-staged around the most picturesque (and cliche) locations—the barn, by the tractor, around the livestock, etc. Not having spent much time on a farm, almost everything is visually novel to the Type 1. He immediately spots a rusty old truck beside the barn and almost squeals with glee, knowing it will get a lot of play on Instagram later.
The Type 2, however, does something quite different. Instead of unfolding into the lawn like a circus train, she leaves her bag in the car and walks to the door. The family spots her and they wave warmly to each other through the window. A dog runs from the house to greet her, and she welcomes him by name. There is no piece of gear that installs skills like conversation, curiosity, and human connection—so her gear remains in the car. A few cups of coffee are shared, the schedule and intent for the shoot is discussed and checked against the family’s feedback, and then they set out together as the photographer grabs her bag from the truck.
In the hour the family spent with the Type 2, they almost forgot the camera was there. She didn’t hide it and used it often, but she also talked from behind it. She showed interest in the farm’s history, and the shoot felt a lot more like a mutual conversation than like a target propped up in a shooting gallery. They family felt connected to her, and as they unfolded, even offered some more inside information about what it felt like to make a living from agriculture in their little town. The photographer noticed the tiredness in their eyes, but also their happiness. She shot her set, but with her eyes and mind trained back to what it must feel like to life the life the family has chosen, and the symbols of their choices that collect around them as they live their lives. She had a long list of things to look for that were not in any way cliche, and in fact, anchored the family in their current time and space. She asked if she could return, later, in case she wanted a more dramatic landscape or even for a more formally lit portrait if needed. The family warmly consented.
In the hour the family spent with the Type 1, things were a little different. The photographer was friendly, but hurried. He didn’t seem to know their names, and he directed them almost as if pursued by an approaching catastrophe (“We’ve got to work fast before the angle of the light changes”, he’d say, as well as “Do you think you can move that tractor a few yards to the left and tie that horse up behind it? How long would that take? And do you have a tarp to cover that old chair so it’s not in the frame?”). The family tried as hard as they could to respond to the poses he suggested, but felt awkward and mostly wanted the the session to end. The photographer downloaded all the images taken to a tablet as the shoot drug on, looking occasionally elated, but more often he’d wrinkle his brows in concern at something he saw, and would ask for a reshoot of a pose or situation. The family didn’t really feel the photographer was tied into the spirit of the farm, but neither were they comfortable enough to consider trying to correct or redirect him. So they tried to follow his advice, barked from behind the dark, cyclops eye of the camera lens, to keep their front legs forward as they leaned back against the rusty truck (that was only being stored there for an uncle they didn’t really like, but family always takes care of family in their world…)
Now raise your hand if you would like to identify with Photographer 1 over 2. Anyone? Bueller? That’s the “setup”. I do like that the writer has made the more obvious photographer to identify with a “her”. I had some thoughts of rewriting this with the genders flipped; it might make an interesting research study, if I was interested in research studies.
But photographer 2 is definitely more humanly present, and the image is not her prime goal. It’s an experience, and also she is not neutral or removed from it… she takes part in it.
The So What
I doubt I have fully captured why a daily photography habit is so meaningful to me, but it’s still the favorite part of my day. It is so part of my ritual I cannot see not doing it.
So I won’t stop. In a few hours I will do my last photo of the day.
And reset my stuff to do it again in 2017.
Forgotten in the post!
- Behind the Lens: 2016 Year in Photographs Whitehouse photographer Pete Souza shares iconic images of the personality, the presence of Barack and Michelle Obama. But read the captions- you can learn how Souza was always thinking about light, positioning, composition.
- Through the Lens and Picture This are presentations I did that aim to apply the principles of photography to learning.
- thruthelens tagged in pinboard are resources related to the above presentations that I continue to add to.
Get yourself in place to join the 2017/365 flickr group?
“Me and My Canon” flickr photo by me https://flickr.com/photos/cogdog/4715730271 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license
The post "Through the Lens I See, Be" was originally squeezed out of the bottom of an old rusted tube of toothpaste at CogDogBlog (https://cogdogblog.com/2016/12/through-the-lens-i-see-be/) on December 31, 2016.