The Thames at Richmond © Anthony Epes
“True freedom is impossible without a mind made free by discipline.” Mortimer J. Adler
In my little house in the far west of London, life is very quiet. My area has been drained of people, presumably taking off on holidays and perhaps in the search of a more reliable summertime experience (it’s lovely and warm today but there is a light rain too). Even though I am always busy over the summer, it feels like the natural pause in the city’s busyness makes it a good time to stop and reflect a little on what you’re doing. I think it’s a good time to bring new habits into your life, try new things – and accept new challenges. So this week I am throwing a challenge to you.
To take 50 photos a day for 15 days.
What will this do? You may ask
I’ve been thinking a lot about the quote from Jason Silva that I used in my last post “Perfection is not just about control, but also about letting go.” And how there is a constant tension when you are making things – between discipline and wild creative energy, between rules and freedom. There are many traps you can fall into when you are being creative; one is waiting for inspiration to strike or to wait for when life presents you with enough time to relax and enjoy and go take photos (ha! When does that ever happen with us adults?)
When you want to create you can’t wait around for these magical things to be presented to you (time and inspiration), it ain’t going to happen – or not in great quantities. We have to create the opportunities for our creativity, and the more we do the greater benefits it will bring to our lives.
Inspiration won’t arrive, you have to go out and find it. If you are actively seeking to take fifty good photos every day your attention will be heightened. You’ll set aside time for yourself that maybe you might have wasted mindlessly reading silly internet stories, or on a tv show you don’t really like but are too tired to change. Maybe it’ll make you change your routine so you walk part of the way home rather than drive.
I suppose it’s a bit like that fitbit walking devise thing – you’ll get to the end of the day and maybe you only have 5 photos left to take, it’ll make you go outside and look in your garden or down your street. You’ll be searching for great photos from the every-day.
Your creativity will be pressurised by time and this discipline – and who knows what you could create? What adventures your photos will take you on.
Canal St Martin, Paris © Anthony Epes
Why 50 photos?
For those who know me, this is an unusual challenge. I am not a prolific photo-taker. I have my camera with me almost all the time, but I don’t press that button very often. My way (and there are so many different ways) is ponderous and thoughtful. Much, I am pleased to say, like the great photographer Bill Brandt:
“By temperament I am not unduly excitable and certainly not trigger-happy. I think twice before I shoot and very often do not shoot at all. By professional standards I do not waste a lot of film; but by the standards of many of my colleagues I probably miss quite a few of my opportunities. Still, the things I am after are not in a hurry as a rule.”
But I also believe massively in pushing yourself with your creativity.
Fifty photos a day is not a lot for some photographers, but it is a lot for me on a day to day basis, and a lot for those of you who work and have other big responsibilities that take up your time.
This is a big enough challenge to make you ask yourself – how can I bring my photography more into my day to day life?
Also – as an extra bonus – did you know that willpower is like a muscle? And when you have the intention to do something, and then you complete it, it brings waves of amazing extra willpower to you which you can use for other things?
There is only one rule….
No snapping. Each photo must be well considered. Even if you are taking several photos of the same subject, just think before you press that button please!
Some ideas for you on themes and subjects
To help you get started I have some ideas on things you could focus on:
The challenge of simplicity
I came across this quote the other day:
“I wanted to photograph clouds to find out what I had learned in forty years about photography. Through clouds to put down my philosophy of life – to show that (the success of) my photographs (was) not due to subject matter – not to special trees or faces, or interiors, to special privileges – clouds were there for everyone…” Alfred Stieglitz
Equivalent, © Alfred Stieglitz, 1930
So – a particularly good one for those of us who have been taking photos for a while, though it’s certainly good practise for a beginner too – this is a great challenge: take a very ‘simple’ and ordinary subject and see where you can go with it. One person, grass, brick walls, etc. Shoot it to death. Jump into your subject and wallow in it. Think what you could do with 750 photos of the same thing. Where can you go with this?
Be courageous and really see people
Earlier this year when the photographer Mary Ellen Mark died I started to look at her work again. I was really struck and inspired by the courage that she had to extend her view of people beyond those who most people see.
“I feel an affinity for people who haven’t had the best breaks in society. What I want to do more than anything is acknowledge their existence”.
Tiny © Mary Ellen Mark
I like this idea of giving people respect and the dignity of being seen for who they are and not who we or society think they are. This isn’t about shooting people who look weird for the sake of it or wallowing in people’s misery – but seeking out people who are usually unseen and having the patience, the courage and the will to tell their stories. When you are shooting people, ask yourself – how can I discover who this person is? How can I get beyond the surface? How can I tell their story?
A good challenge if you want to take your portraits further.
See the same things in a different way
I talk about ‘seeing’ in probably every post I write. How important it is to remove the baggage of thinking and habit from your vision so that you can see things as they really are. I recently was shown this book and thought what an interesting way to think about looking. Alexandra Horowitz writes in her book ‘On Looking’ about taking eleven walks around the same city block with eleven experts – from a sound engineer, to a geologist to a dog. They all obviously look and see things in totally different ways, and reveal things to Horowitz that she hadn’t seen about the area.
This is a great 4 minute of Horowitz taking a short walk that is a nice shot of inspiration for you, here. Brainpickings wrote a great article about the book here. And there is a longer 50 minute talk Horowitz did, here on You Tube.
Be ready to witness the extraordinary
Jonas Bendiksen is my favourite contemporary photographer at the moment. His book ‘Satellites’ is on my short list of most desired possessions. In this little video he talks about how he captured one of the most striking images from his book.
Altai Territory, Russia, 2000 © Jonas Beniksen (You can currently buy a poster of this image on his website)
He was exploring and looking for discarded satellite parts that other people look for and sell. He came across some men who’d found a satellite part and all of a sudden thousands of butterflies appeared. What was interesting, though, was how at the time Bendikson said how normal he thought the situation was.
And I think extraordinary things happen like this all of the time, we just have to pay closer attention.
I would love to know if you decide to take my 50/15 photo challenge, and if it helps you get more photography/creativity/inspiration into your life. Please comment on my blog, or post some of your photos on my Facebook page. I would love to see them and include some of your photos in my folllow up post in a couple of weeks. I will myself be doing this challenge – and magically it coincides with my first holiday in….not sure…but a small holiday to Devon none the less.
And as always – feel free to get in touch with any photo related questions you have – I’m always up for suggestions too for blog posts about things you’d like to learn.
Anthony & Diana
PS: Please share this with anyone you know who loves photography, thanks!