The baby girl

Finding Our Way Into A New World – A Single Photo a Day Project – By Dustin Neikirk

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…

The baby girl
My daughter moves a lot!

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.

The baby girl and her friends
I feel like I captured some serious scheming.

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.

Bubbles at the park

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.

The baby girl
I knew this one was going to be blurry, but I love the final image.

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.

Momma and the baby girl
My first photo of 2021.

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.

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7 thoughts on “Finding Our Way Into A New World – A Single Photo a Day Project – By Dustin Neikirk”

    1. Dustin Neikirk

      Thank you! It really is incredible to see her change so so much, in such a short time. I’ve also been surprised by how quickly this has forced me to become more comfortable with my Nikon.

  1. Thank you for letting us into your little slice of life. I will be a father in June this year and hope to do a similar project. I have my last 5 rolls of Pro 400H in 120 format. I’m hoping to document his first 75 days at home (I shoot a Bronica ETR and I get 15 shots per roll). With that film stock leaving us, I could not think of a project that is more worthy. Now, I will probably take many more shots on other film stocks, my cellphone or digital camera, but those 75 shots of 400H remaining is all his. If I find more rolls, the project will continue. I hope that we get another update in a few months!

    1. Congratulations and best of health to your family and little one! I think your project sounds awesome and would love to hear how it all goes. I’m hoping to do another update half way through and at the end once I’ve been able to walk through selecting a photo book and that whole process.

  2. Daniel Castelli

    Hi Dustin,
    This is a wonderful project. I admire you because I don’t have the discipline to stick with something like this everyday.
    If you’re into photo books, check out PHOTO du JOUR by David Hume Kennerly. He did a picture a day project back at the beginning of the millennium while covering the American Presidential candidate’s in 2001. I saw the exhibit in 2003 at the Smithsonian in Washington DC. After viewing his work, I wanted to toss my Leica into the Potomic River!
    I don’t mind blur; the soft blurry photo of your little one says loads about the beauty of childhood and how they need us to protect them.
    Good luck, please continue and keep everyone around you healthy!
    – Dan

    1. Dustin Neikirk

      Hello, and thank you for the kind words. I’m really interested in checking out the work you mentioned. Thank you for reading this article and the encouragement to keep going!

  3. Dustin, such a wonderful piece of writing and pictures. Covid and isolation sure has taught us to be creative and dig deep! Keep up the fruitful work and you will be so glad you did down the road!

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