As is likely true for many of us, I left 2020 with a bit of hope for the new year and in search of an opportunity to make something of 2021. Before the year was over, I landed on a project idea intended to inspire creativity through limitation and reinforce, within myself, an effort to embrace imperfection.
I started 2021 with a commitment to make one image every day, using a single camera, lens, and film stock. The final product will be a photobook for my family and I to remember all the small, candid, and sometimes imperfect, moments of 2021. Three months into the project, I am pleased with the results, but I know there will be tough times for the project and my inspiration. I hope this project inspires others to challenge themselves with something new and find ways to love the imperfections of our daily lives.
I would like to begin with a bit of my history with photography. I began using a film camera at some point in the mid-1990s when I purchased an old Pentax SLR from a local pawn shop. It was my mother who introduced me to photography. As a child, I remember being absolutely enthralled with her camera, a Fujica ST605. I thought the Fujica was the pinnacle of design and quality, and I wanted one exactly like it. I’m not entirely sure why I landed on the Pentax, other than the price was probably right for a teenager working as a dishwasher.
I have since had fits and starts with camera ownership, but the clarity of finally beginning to understand the creative process of making a picture began with a Fujifilm X-T1. I was struck by the accessibility of controls and the incredible film simulations, but I started to slowly shift towards the idea of “if I like the film simulations, why not just try the real thing”.
I’ve already been labelled a “hipster” (I’ll take that) and was worried that this would certainly cement my status in the minds of friends and family. Whatever, let’s do it. I did a bit (no, a lot) of research on various models and finally settled on a Nikon F3 with the 50mm f1.8. My incredible wife, who was supportive of the new hobby, picked out the right camera and gave it to me as a Christmas present in 2018. I have since taken the “red pill” and descended deep into the world of film, but that is a story for another article…
As you and I were all discovering the realities of a new world with Covid-19, I was adjusting to life as a new father with the incredible opportunity to work from home at a point when, during a normal time, many parents would be heading back to the office. I began to realize that this was not going to be a normal year, but it might just give me a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be more present for the little milestones.
Working from home made it much easier to get away from my desk to take a few photos and it was wonderful to see the scans come back, knowing that I was able to capture images that I loved with a hobby that I enjoyed. I found that I was still using my camera throughout the year, but certainly not every day. Film was expensive and developing a painful process with store closures and limitations on local businesses. I wanted to make more pictures.
Nearing the end of the year, with grand visions of a better 2021, I was looking for opportunities to force a camera into my hands, hoping to spawn creativity in my photography.
I eventually settled on the idea of taking one photo each day with a single camera, lens and film stock. Those choices are a Nikon f3, the Nikkor 50mm f1.8 and Kodak Tri-X 400.
I wanted an excuse to force deep understanding with all three, and feel as though I could start to see an image and instinctively adjust camera settings before putting my eye to the viewfinder. Perhaps most importantly and a point I would like to reinforce, I planned to approach this project from a perspective the Japanese call “wabi-sabi”, which is an absolute acceptance and embracing of imperfection. I’m not going to lie to you, there have been moments I wanted to call a mulligan and take another picture. I, myself, am not perfect. There have been several times I wanted to snap just one more and forget about the constraints of my project, but I have been able to resist.
I want to be clear that I am not a professional photographer. This is not my attempt to kickstart a career change as a working photographer. This is an extremely personal project to document our lives as we start a fresh new year in 2021. We may never get back to the old “normal”, and in many ways, I hope we discover a new, better normal. This is my foolish attempt to capture and cherish the imperfect, everyday moments as we rebuild our world from the ashes of a life-changing tragedy.
It is now the end of March 2021 and I am about halfway into my third roll of film. I have missed one day so far, and I regret not forcing myself to take that photo. I remember having a bad day and I didn’t want to think about the project, but those are probably the days where I am most in need of a distraction and an opportunity to re-centre. The first roll has been processed and I’m generally happy with the results. The funny thing is that some of the photos I wanted to re-take turned out to be some of my favourites.
I can say with absolute certainty that I’m happy with my choice, but I do know there will days where I want nothing to do with a camera. These are the moments where I need to embrace wabi-sabi and document our experiences, as they are all part of the story. I certainly have found that this experience has given me an opportunity to focus on picking a shot and committing to the result, whatever that may be. I can already tell that I’m more comfortable with my equipment and I feel more confident deciding when to let the camera meter, and when to intervene with the various settings.
I’m certainly not trying to convince anyone to make the same commitment to a project, but I would highly encourage something similar for anyone looking to spark a bit of creativity through limitation and embrace of the imperfect.