A 365 Experiment
I didn't buy an iPhone to keep up with the Joneses or to become more of a slave to Apple Mactintosh products than I am already. This miniaturised, 2001, Kubrick -obelisk appeared in my world in March 2013, simply because I couldn't bear the idea that I might be losing out on an opportunity to seamlessly integrate more photography into my life. I carry my DSLR camera just about everywhere - (a fact of which I am proud of- as I continue to support my photography alongside full time work) , yet somehow there are always those occasions - those "decisive moments", as full-timer, Cartier Bresson referred to them as. Those instances when one is caught in a first-thought -right-thought fraction of time, that simply will not wait for the DSLR to be unzipped from it's bag. Those mental-chewing gum visual moments, as I like to call them. Moments that are so instantaneous, that one needs both a combination of: "ever-present-ness" and a fast-draw response; or risk being caught off-photography-guard as one goes about the business of the day. These moments appear to be even more fleeting as they usually exist on the peripherals of the working day - the time in between the times you are otherwise compelled by work activity and domestic routine. This is why I bought the phone.
While all this may sound apologetic in it's tone, it isn't. For the iPhone has enabled the inner- Garry Winogrand as well as spectre of Vivian Maier to be unleashed in my photographer-life. This device is a veritable Uzi of image collection. This little tablet of joy, has almost given me the permission to invade every aspect of human existence and experience, within a world which is already preoccupied (or enslaved - its hard to tell sometimes) to it's hand-held devices. A world which demands that we record every facet of it- however crass, meaningless, happenstance or banal.
Herein lies the rub. Without some kind of imposed discipline upon this automatic response to "seeing" life; it seems I could be in danger of succumbing to a kind of visual babble. My imposed structure, to avoid this and to keep a photographer's perspective, came from a combination of the tried and tested 365 Project and the directed use of social media . A photo a day, every day for a calendar year.
I am three months away from completing the challenge and here are my pledges or self-imposed 'rules' which have acted as a kind of manifesto for this project. The list below is what I have used to steer myself into the whacky world of iPhone photography and develop my own response to a 365 project:
1) I will take photographs with the iPhone all day long. I will look for photographic opportunities arising from the moment of waking until its time to sleep.
2) I will be more observant of the mundane and not be afraid to witness life. I will record the everyday, the everyman and the routine and the regular. Whenever possible I will have that tablet in my hand as i walk through the steps of my day. From the sublime to the ridiculous- the device will be my "iCompanion." If in doubt - tap the shutter button on screen.
3) I will select and identify images which: depict an interesting or meaningful moment from the days collection. I will break the selection down to those images that are well composed, that are in focus (if they need to be) , that are either thoughtfully taken - spontaneously shot- or the result of mere happy accident.
4) I will work cliche -free. If at all possible I will not succumb to the temptations of: the notorious selfie, photographing my feet, my dinner, my decorated cappuccino or cocktail. I will also avoid photographing kittens / puppies / babies / flowers / cute couples or children. Similarly I will not resort to over-editing my shots. A practice which of course heralds the chance for a whole host of other cliches (funky borders, iridescent light leaks, big vignettes or stamped patterns) to take residence in my work flow.
(This point - I might add, has been the hardest one to stick with!)
5) I will work with as many and varied photography editing apps as I can. I will use my commuting time and my idle platform waiting, boarding lounge, protracted meetings, supermarket queuing time to work and familiarise myself with the varied editing features . If I trip up or fall down stairs because I am watching my phone's screen - it will be because i am mid-way through tinkering with an image taken earlier, not because I am texting.
6) I will always shoot in 1:1 Square format. Simply because it allows for a change of thinking regarding composition after the DSLR. In addition:- neither the lens position on the back of the iPhone, nor the orientation of the phone (when used either horizontally or vertically) won't drastically alter this compositional decision making. Square shots lend themselves well to the way they can be displayed or laid out and scrolled through on social media later. (See point 7 below).
7) Since I am living in China and "WeChat" is the most popular form of social media for people on their phones here, I will only use the "Moments" feature for posting my single image for the day and post it during the day it has been shot (before midnight). Additionally I will set up a "Tumblr" blog where I will transfer a selection of the best of these WeChat Moments, weekly so that I can link it with my website and other social media platforms.
8) I will use this daily exercise to discover what interests me as a photographer. I will allow the process to direct me towards some more meaningful street photography / photography projects. Hopefully the libraries of images in the phone's albums will act as a filter for reoccurring themes which identify themselves over time.
9) I will not stress about creating a top quality image each and every day. I will treat the project as an excuse to: walk different routes home - spend more time outdoors - more time on public transport - more time quietly observing - more time spent taking chances- more time considering vantage points and quickly react to things happening on the streets around me. I will deviate from my routine behavior as much as possible. If nothing photograph-worthy is forthcoming, then i will not beat myself up for not shooting a photo on that day to post but rather work with a shot that I have taken earlier instead.
10) I will enjoy the process and include my family, friends colleagues and students in it. I will seek their feedback and sometimes photograph them or simply take enjoyment from sharing the project with them. In doing so, I will see myself in training for working with my usual camera and overcoming shyness and or deliberation and take pleasure in the encounters that this kind of photography may bring.
So there you have it. It all sounds very sensible doesn't it? As I have already hinted, its all very well making the pledges - but following them is quite another thing entirely. It's now nine months in and I must already be guilty of not following points 4, 5 and 9! Nevertheless, this daily ritual of creating "Photo of the Day" is still a happy one and I haven't regretted doing this project at all.
I'd love to hear about your experiences with this kind of project if you too have already taken the 365 plunge. Or maybe you are some way into such a project already? Perhaps you are just thinking about it? You can visit my Tumblr site: The Guangzhounaut Dailies to see more iPhone Photos of The Day that are about Guangzhou, or join me on WeChat by using my ID : Jamie-Lowe, and find out what happens over the remaining three months of this year. The Guangzhounaut continues to add photo essays from Guangzhou on the website here too.
I am already looking forward to continuing next year with a whole different daily photographic manifesto, involving my small compact camera, the Ricoh GR), and a proposed series of 52 photo essays. Thanks for following.