By Guest Blogger, Darren Rogers
365 days is a loooooooooooong time. And yet it disappears in what feels like a blink of an eye. So much happens in a year, so much unfolds – and once it’s been and gone so much is forgotten. For one year, 365 was my answer to this problem.
I discovered Flickr through my good buddy and internet phenomenon disco~stu. He got me into photography and Flickr and the lure of a 365 soon became too much to take. On the 6th of June 2008 I started, without a clue of exactly what I was letting myself in for or any kind of photography skills. As I was turning 30 that year, my intention was to cover the last six months of my twenties and the first six of my thirties. I think I half-imagined I’d wake up on my thirtieth birthday with gray hair and arthritis in my knees (and wouldn’t that have been something to photograph) and I wanted to be able to look back and remember what I was thinking during this time. It’s was a bit masochistic really, as I wasn’t looking forward to being 30. And that’s an understatement.
When I first started my 365 I saw it as more of a blog than a photography project. I wanted to record my life in detail (and I did, in so much detail) everyday so I could look back and fill in the lost moments that drop off the cranial map over time. I spent literally hours every night typing up lengthy descriptions, regaling everyone who visited with an account of my day. This lasted far longer than it should’ve, but at some point 365 stopped being about the daily grind and the photograph became more important to me. Descriptions (mostly) became shorter and more focused on the photograph. Much later on I started to enjoy detaching from reality altogether because it was more fun for me and must’ve been a welcome relief to those people kind enough to stick around while I posted awful photos with even more turgid descriptions!
I also wanted to get much, much better as a photographer. Put it this way, when I first started I had enthusiasm, a great teacher in disco~stu and f**k all else. I was lucky to have my own personal photography guru in disco~stu and I think most of my photography-related knowledge comes directly from talking to him while we were out on one of our many evening photo shoots.
The good thing about taking on a daily project of any kind is that whatever you’re doing, you get to know the ropes almost without trying, so I was fairly confident I’d improve over the course of the year. I figured that learning a few tricks in Photoshop would help me along the way and I very quickly became totally obsessed with it. Totally? Totally. Let’s put it this way, I’m not the kind of person who imports their photos off their memory card and thinks “there is nothing I can do with this”. My own view is that you can always improve a shot by post-processing. Always. OK, mostly always because I have got a few shots right straight out of camera. I put my beliefs down to two things: I like processing my photos, it’s fun and . . . I’m not that good a photographer that I can get what I want in camera. And that’s fine because it gives me a good excuse to process. Some might say over-process. I might agree, but its fun doing it.
So, over the year I learned a bundle of Photoshop tricks. Having to set up in front of the bedroom wall for 9 out of 10 shots dictated that I had to arm myself with some neato visual trickery. I learned how to levitate, shrink myself down so I could fit inside a cup, hang out with my favorite cartoon character, clone myself, make my head fall off, levitate objects, use lightsabres, make light trails, graffiti walls, give myself a halo, remove my eyes, grow an extra head, grow an eye on my forehead, hold my disembodied head in my hand, cry blood, replace my head with a hand flipping the bird (that one took a while), give myself scars, have words floating out of my mouth/from between my ears . . . *deeeeeep breath* . . . and be decapitated. But the biggest thing for me was learning how to blend textures over a photo to give the impression that I wasn’t, in fact, standing in front of the same bedroom wall for the 137th time in a row: I was, in fact, lurking in a grungy subway, or fondling alien membrane (not as disgusting as it sounds).
Photoshop helped me out of a lot of dead ends because with the best will in the world, unless you’re insanely creative (and there are a few on Flickr) you can’t sustain an awesome photo a day x 365. Photoshop allowed me to take a dull photograph and add varying levels of interest. It didn’t always work but it suited my methods. I didn’t have a lot of days where the ideas came to me fully formed. Man those were good days when that happened. I’m more, um . . . organic in my approach. What this meant for my 365 was that I’d set up without a clue what to shoot – and start taking photos. And not stop rattling off shots until I had something I thought I could work with. There were days when I cleared 100 photos before I had a worthwhile photo. So while I was pretty useless in my approach towards dreaming up ideas I had a basic standard that I had to reach before I was happy to stop shooting and start processing.
The pivotal point of my 365 was getting a flash. Off camera flash is like my favorite thing. I don’t actually think I can take a decent photo without one anymore. Once I’d learned how to use it (which took a couple of weeks of really bad swearing and hundreds and hundreds of photos) I could finally get the kind of sharp, properly exposed photos I wanted to. And then Photoshop the hell outta them. Brilliant.
I spent hours almost every night shooting, processing, posting and commenting. I can remember several times being up way past midnight tweaking little bits of photos and re-uploading the revised versions. From the start, this project was all about trying to produce the very best I could and push myself every day – otherwise what was the point? I stopped pushing to learn new things after a while simply because the effort I was putting in was getting to me and my family, so towards the end I tried to loosen up a bit and try to focus on getting one really good idea a week – if the rest were lame then so be it. Throwing in a few mini-series didn’t hurt either and took the pressure off.
I learned so much about photography from this project, the most important being that good composition is absolutely the key to a good photograph. Good composition is what subconsciously draws other people to your photographs and I’m not saying I always nailed it (far from it) but through taking photos everyday you learn to know when it’s there and when it’s not.
All my photographic influences come from Flickr – there are some insanely talented people on that website. It wasn’t so long ago I’d have run a mile from anything remotely resembling social networking, never mind posting a photo of myself on the internet. I HATE having my photo taken. Still do. Taking part in 365 did change my life no matter how cliché it might sound. I learned a new skill. I learned that it’s fun to make new friends and meet them in real life. Most disturbingly I learned that I’m one of the most self absorbed, pretentious people I’ve ever met. I found this out only after revisiting my 365 and reading some of the stuff I’d written. I learned that it’s good to find these kind of things out about yourself because I’ve since made a conscious decision never to take myself so seriously again . . . on the internet at least.
I’m glad I did it. There was a period of time where it drove me nuts beyond belief and I really struggled. It affected real life because I spent so much time doing it and that became a problem – I’m lucky to have a very understanding lady, but these days she gives me a look if I even mention 365 (and quite rightly too). On the plus side I’m not good at sticking at things but I certainly stuck with 365. Having so many people around me going through the same thing helped.
I’m glad I did it because the year turned out to have so many twists, turns and unexpected awesome things (and, well . . . some not so awesome things but that’s life) that made the project so worthwhile:
- I turned 30 and I didn’t go gray and develop arthritis in my knees
- I got seconded into a new job for 18 months (a promotion)
- I got downgraded due to restructuring at work (a demotion)
- We found out we were expecting our third child (who’s now 9 months old! And crying as I type this)
- We finally managed to buy our own house (well, we bought the house after my 365 ended but the wheels were in motion during 365)
- I saw two of my favorite bands live (Radiohead and The Wildhearts)
- I met people from the internet and they were real, normal people who I really liked and not weird like I’d always imagined people from the internet to be before I joined Flickr.
- I enjoyed several gigs with the band I played guitar in
- I left the band I played guitar in
- I went on holiday
- I was ill and passed out on holiday (so not cool)
- I upgraded gear: first the camera – Fuji S7000 to Nikon D50, new lenses (50mm and 18-200mm VR) and an SB600 flash
And it’s all there, recorded and ready for me to shuffle through whenever I want. Even the bad bits that seemed so painful at the time, I’m glad I can go back and see what I was thinking that day. Even if it was a tirade of abuse and self-pity (in fact I’ve since gone back and deleted some of the more fruity tirades because . . . well, they were embarrassing. There’s venting and then there’s venting y’know? And it’s kind of cool to be able to do that, a bit like being able to go back in time and change the past. Made me feel like Marty McFly).
It’s been about 10 months since I finished, and I followed up my 365 with a 52 Weeks project. As I type this (Saturday 27th March 2010, 23:08 and – nope! – 23:09) I’ve just posted week 43 of my 52 Weeks. 52 Weeks started off being less Photoshop-orientated, focused on getting more in camera using Lightroom only to process. But I missed Photoshop so it’s made a welcome return the last few weeks. I feel like only now am I finally finding a style that suits me. But we’ll see, I go through more phases than the moon.
I am taking it easier nowadays, with a little baby daughter to look after as well as our two boys and our own house to do up and look after, real life has managed to muscle its way back into my life, and I’m enjoying it being my primary focus.
The one thing that makes me so happy that I did a 365 is this: everywhere I look around me there are little memories of things that happened during my 365, places I went, people I saw, alter egos I became. All reasons why I’ll always look back fondly on this insane project that nearly stole my sanity and sold it on eBay (buy it now for £5 + free P&P).
You should totally do one.
Darren Rogers ( AKA: Daz*) completed his 365 in June of 2009. He followed up this epic adventure with a 52 Week project that is still a work in progress and is constantly uploading random shots to Flickr. Check out his 365 or his other work over on Flickr.