Reminders For Days

China City - Jackson, MI

Reminders basically rule my life. Since my first iPhone, I’ve let a combination of to-do tasks and calendar pop-ups tell me what to do, and when. Everything from taking my daily medication to taking out the trash – I assign a robot to tell me things that I would otherwise forget. It’s a mix of Absent-Minded Professorness and outboard brain reliance.

I know that if I want to build a habit (exercise), or tell myself to do something later in a day (call the cable company), or if there’s something I just can’t or shouldn’t forget (a doctor’s appointment), I have to set a reminder. Otherwise, my brain won’t hold on to the information.

Now, I’m using a reminder system to keep my daily project going. It’s simple: twice a day, Day One tells me to make a new entry. That’s my signal to keep my photo project going – usually at 4 p.m. (before I leave work) and 7 p.m. (before the light disappears).

Why Day One? For me, it serves as both a reminder system and a daily log for the photo I take and the camera settings I used. I can even include a reference photo as a visual clue.

Day One has served me well since the birth of my daughter in 2015. Then, I used it as a journal to record her growing up – personality developments, funny sayings, a photo, that kind of thing. It came in handy when I made her first year photo book; I could look back and see, chronologically, how she was turning into a toddler.

The app doesn’t really matter. You could do something similar with a calendar or a text file. The point is that I rely so much on reminders that I’m using them to keep my daily photo project moving along. I’m both reminding myself and logging my progress as I go. Over time, it may become a habit, and I won’t need to think about it.

But probably not. I know myself well enough to keep a system like this in place until the project is done.


For My Next Project

 

Bronica ETRSi

Details are starting to come together for my next community project.

For this next one, I want to experiment with some studio space, and making the portraits on black and white film. To do that, I picked up a Bronica ETRSi from Jon Wilkening – a fantastic kit, full of potential. And it includes a learning curve, which is the part I’m most looking forward to.

(One of the benefits of picking up photography as a hobby is that you get to tinker, and learn new equipment, while you’re making photographs. That puts it in the same realm as classic computers or engine repair as much as art.)

I hope to set up a quick photo studio to practice with the Bronica, including making photos with friends and family, just for fun.

Restrictions are simply creative challenges. Using medium format film for a portrait project is a restriction that, I hope, leads to interesting results and good photographs. It forces me to learn something new, while lending a timeless feel to the whole endeavor. Should be fun.


Self Publish Or Bust

Rick Smolan has a bunch of good tips on self-publishing your next photo book.

It’s a bit crowdfunding heavy, but has advice from a guy who has done a lot of photo publishing. I appreciate that Smolan’s first tip is on audience:

The traditional publishing model was to turn to a big publisher who would throw it into book stores and hope the book found an audience. Now photographers are able to market directly to the people who are already invested in your chosen subject.

I don’t start a photo book project unless I have an audience in mind. And because I’m seriously considering a Kickstarter campaign, I’ll take all the good tips I can.

(via Blurb on Twitter.)


Jam Bands

Prog rock is my heart and soul, but lately I’m drifting into the “stoner metal” crowd as well. Take this lovely, 10-minute long jam by Causa Sui – perfect headphone music for tinkering, working, or photo editing.

And as often happens, one band leads to another, leads to another, leads to another


Riley May

I’ve spent the last week enjoying our new baby daughter, Riley May Lawrence.

She arrived early Tuesday morning, purple and gooey, and has been either eating or sleeping since. We got back home on Friday afternoon, and took most of the weekend getting settled: spending time with the other two kids, getting our routine down, and taking care of the baby.

This baby – the c-section, the hospital stay, our sleep cycle – has been a smooth one. We’re lucky. We’re also lucky to get lots of help from grandparents and friends. And our new house is prepped enough to make the living part easy.

I’m taking this next week off of work, too (the first time in my working life I’ve had two consecutive weeks off), to help with the kids, enjoy the new baby, and help my wife around the house. Plus photo making, of course.

Life gets really simple when you have one big (or tiny, as it were) priority. I find it surprisingly relaxing to tune out everything else and concentrate on this crying, squeaking little person.

Everything else takes a distant second.


Go Outside and Play

Last summer, at our former house, we noticed something more and more: of all our neighbors, we were the only ones who spent any measurable amount of time outside.

Whether for grilling, or for playing on the swing set, or going for a simple walk around the block, our family was largely alone. We didn’t see some neighbors for weeks. Others only went outside to mow the lawn, or get in their car and leave. My wife and I would sit in the backyard, after putting the kids to bed, just to read and drink and watch the birds. Again: all alone, all by ourselves.

Granted, we lived in a rural neighborhood, and most country folks stick to themselves. But we couldn’t shake a thought: how weird that other people in our neighborhood weren’t enjoying the lovely Michigan summer. So far, it’s been the same story at our new house.

Maybe a lot has changed since I was a kid (“Go outside and play!” my mother would shout, and we did – all day long). There are a lot of new time suck options, from Netflix to Facebook, even in rural areas. Given that more people (especially children) are spending less time outside, my values probably differ from my nation’s.

On the other hand, it’s easy to fall into nature worship, and praise fresh air so much that you become annoying. I’ll admit that not everyone craves Thoreau’s “tonic of wilderness” like I do. We sent our son to a nature center for preschool, and he spent most of his school day outdoors in the woods. That’s not for everyone.

But, I do think that if you have a yard, you should spend time in it. If you live on a road, you should walk up and down it from time to time.

And if you’re a photographer, getting outside should be a part of your practice. Take your camera, grab your kids or pet, and go outside to see what the season has accomplished.

(Coincidentally, a recent Roderick On the Line podcast episode had a discussion about this subject, specifically about people playing sports outside. Good listen.)


Using Your Family As Photo Subjects

What Do You Dream About?

A generous On Taking Pictures listener gifted me a copy of Sally Mann’s Immediate Family for our gift exchange during the holidays, and it has me thinking about family photos. As a parent, family photography came naturally. Is there a better way to capture your kids growing up?

Unless you’re a parent, a lot of this won’t be clear. But for those parents out there, you instinctively know how important family photography is.

In her memoir, Hold Still (which is a great read, by the way – give me a memoir over an autobiography any day) Mann tells her photography students:

Photograph what is important to you, what is closest to you, photograph the great events of your life, and let your photography live with your reality.

“Your reality” could include dreams, or emotions, or flowers by a big window. For parents, “what is closest” is often our children, especially at first. And what is photography if not to capture something before its gone?

Photographing the family has a few side benefits. For one, it’s just good practice. Think about shooting something every day, week after week. and then add in that you have a readily-available subject who more or less cooperates. Want to try out a new technique? Want to test a new piece of gear? Need to sketch out an idea? “C’mere, kiddo. Stand here.”

Second, while I love a good snapshot, I love making art with my family even more. I put feelings into the photos I make of my family, and that lends them a greater weight. Maybe they don’t mean anything to the casual observer. And maybe the kids, themselves, will look back and wonder why I made such a fuss. But with my family photos, I’m the audience (okay, maybe the grandparents, too).

Can I show someone that I love them by taking their photo? I believe so. That’s the ultimate reason I photograph my family. All you need is love, as John Lennon sang. It’s the ultimate personal project.

So now, I look for examples of good family photos, a genre I would never had been interested if it weren’t for exploring image making with my own kids. If I get the same sense of fondness and artistic expression – artists living with their reality, as Mann says – then the photographer has succeeded.