BY OLYMPUS AMBASSADOR STEVE GOSLING
Early in 2021 I committed to taking a photo a day for 365 days. This article describes why I took on this task, what I was trying to achieve, the constraints I put on myself in working on the project and shows some of the images I took in the first month, together with the story behind them – what I photographed, why, where and how!
The article is the first in a series of posts – for I would like to share the story of my journey. It may be early days in the project’s life, but I have already discovered that the process of working on it is as important as the resulting images. So, my plan is to regularly recount the challenges I have faced, how I overcame them and what I have learnt as a result. I will talk about how working on the project has helped in my development as a photographer as well the highs and the lows I have encountered along the way. Every article will include some images taken since the previous one with relevant background information about each photo. My hope is that readers will enjoy being with me on the journey and by sharing my experience through the articles they will be encouraged to reflect on their own photographic practice.
‘365’ projects – committing to taking a new photograph everyday for a year – is not a new idea. Thousands (probably millions) of people have done this before. A few photographer friends of mine embraced this challenge years ago and whilst I’ve admired their commitment & been inspired by their images, I’ve resisted taking on the task myself. My life as a professional photographer usually involves me in a busy schedule of trips and workshops throughout the year interspersed with hectic attempts to catch up on admin and prepare for the next period out of the office. Not that I’m complaining – it’s the life I’ve chosen and I love it.
However, Covid put paid to that routine early in 2020. I watched my planned travel & workshop programme collapse like a stack of dominoes. But if it can be said that there was a silver lining in the situation then it created the opportunity & time for a much discussed and welcomed house move. It’s been said that divorce, bereavement and moving to a new house are the three most stressful events we’re likely to encounter in our lives. Add Covid & successive lockdowns into the mix and by the end of the year these factors had taken their toll on my time, energy levels, motivation and creativity. Unusually for me I lost interest in going out with my camera.
Encouraged by my wife to get my backside into gear I contemplated how I was going to rediscover my enthusiasm for making images again. That was the origins of my personal ‘365’ project – by making a regular commitment to go out with my camera I hoped I would get my creative mojo back. The title for the project came early on. One morning, as I was considering what I might photograph that day, the thought ‘oh well, another day, another photo’ came to mind. Then I couldn’t get the Paul McCartney song out of my head – ‘Another Day’.
I gave myself the challenge of making a new photograph everyday but before embarking on the endeavour I set myself a few boundaries – some rules and constraints that I would adhere to.
Firstly, wisely or not, I limited myself to making B&W/monochrome images. I may live to regret this decision because it cuts down on some of the photographic options available to me but I wanted to make the process a challenge.
Secondly, each image had to be taken within that day. Processing a photograph on a specific day that had been taken previously wouldn’t be allowed and I definitely wasn’t going to slip in a photo on a barren day from the days when I was able to shoot 3 or 4 images. ‘Who would know?’ you might ask. But that wasn’t the point – embracing the challenge was the main purpose of the exercise.
I also decided that each image should be founded on a thought, idea, concept or emotion – casual snaps of our pet dog or a postcard image of the surrounding countryside felt like easy cop-outs. I wanted the photographs to reflect what I was feeling or experiencing each day. So, the resulting images have either been self-initialised (i.e. they have come from something within me) or they reflect my personal response to something I have seen whilst I have been out and about.
And finally, I allowed myself the freedom to create images. Whilst I wanted to be forced out, to look for photographs in the wider world, I was realistic enough to accept that weather conditions, other demands on my time etc would mean that some images would have to be set up – for example, still life shots of flowers or objects found around my home. But I resolved that they too should be founded on a thought, idea, concept or emotion – there had to be something that day that made the subject relevant beyond ‘they looked attractive’. Associated with this, I did impose a limitation on creating photos – objects or subjects I encountered beyond my home had to be shot as found; no moving them into position or altering them in any way.
Some of the photographs
On a day-to-day basis I am a pragmatic person – I get on with life, try to make the most of it and not reflect too much on how I might be feeling. But I believe successful photography is founded on emotions – about capturing feelings about a subject or a moment in time. For good or bad, working on this project has forced me to confront my feelings on a daily basis.
When I took this image (early in 2021), I was quite sad and not very optimistic about what the year ahead might hold. My mood wasn’t helped by the damp and misty weather conditions. I decided to take my dog for a walk and as I stood by edge of the river, looking at the water dripping off the overhanging branches I thought of the clouds, imagining them sharing my emotional state.
One evening, as the moon rose, I stood in our garden and watched the birds on the nearby wires. I reflected on how liberating it might be to fly to the moon and escape all that I perceived as negative in the world at that time. Composing the shot to get both the bird and the moon in the frame, I waited patiently until it flew off and then fired the shutter. I had one chance to get the photo so was pleased that I captured the bird in just the right position.
Another walk close to home to visit the weir on the river but this time I was in more positive spirits. Watching the water flow with the light and reflections changing constantly with its movement I contemplated how nothing stays the same for long, everything is in flux and the changing patterns of light and dark reflected the fluidity of life. I zoomed in tight to create this semi-abstract composition that absorbs me every time I look at it.
On this particular day my energy levels were low and my motivation to go out & get a photograph even lower. I grabbed my camera, more in hope than expectation and set off on another dog walk (for anyone contemplating their own 365 project I can highly recommend getting a dog – they force you out of the house no matter what).
As I wandered down the road, I asked myself what the problem was. The answer was I just felt empty. So, in an attempt to make a positive from a negative, I resolved to try and find a photograph of something that conveyed ‘empty’. For some unknown reason my dog took me to a local playing field that he rarely goes to and there I saw these four seats that had appeared since our previous visit – lined up, looking forlorn and empty. I knew immediately, there was my shot.
The experience reminded of a quote by photographer Ruth Bernhard, who once said:
“I never look for a photograph. The photograph finds me and says ‘I am here’.”
Which brings me to one of the lessons reinforced early on in the project – not to panic, to stay calm and I discovered that the photos came to me. I realised that searching too hard for a photo ironically got in the way of me finding it. There were days when I thought I wouldn’t get a shot, when the light was fading and inspiration was disappearing with it. But if I kept my heart, mind and eyes open the photograph would eventually appear. These experiences reminded me of another quote, from Cartier Bresson:
“Photography is ………. intuition, a poetic experience. You can’t go looking for it; you can’t want it or you won’t get it. First you must lose yourself. Then it happens.”
This photograph was taken on such an occasion. Late one evening I took a walk along the river to an old stone bridge which crosses the River Nidd. The sun was going down and I still hadn’t got my shot. The bridge itself wasn’t working as an image for me but then I noticed the reflections in the water underneath. Immediately the phrase ‘its all water under the bridge’ came to mind. With a smile I pressed the shutter and went home a happy man.