Doing a 365? Here’s what I learned

In Film, How-to, Inspiration

This time last year I was in the middle of a 365, but my commitment to the project was wobbling. I’d set myself the challenge of taking a picture every day on Tri-X, the classic 35mm black-and-white film. I started the year with confidence, carrying my trusty Contax Aria with me wherever I went. I was seeing new possibilities in the everyday; pictures I had not seen before. I walk past this bench every day on the way to school, for example. But one day, in the fog, with black-and-white film in my camera, I saw potential I had not seen before.

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And that’s what a 365 should be all about: by making photography part of your daily routine, rather than a mode you switch into, it makes you see the world in a new way. But by the middle of the year I was flagging. I felt as though I was taking the same pictures again and again. My camera was playing up, too; it would lock up in the middle of a roll, and when the film was processed there would be a few blank frames instead of pictures! (My husband processed all my film on the kitchen table; he says the four chemical steps are dev, stop, fix and bourbon.) And even when the pictures came out I had to scan them and remove all the dust spots, which took ages.

So if you’re in the middle of a 365 and you’re also having doubts, I feel your pain. I could have used the misbehaviour of my camera as an excuse to stop. But I kept going, and I’m glad I did. Doing a 365 is worth the effort, but it’s only obvious in retrospect. So if you’re doing one now, or are thinking of doing one in the future, here are the five things I’ve learned from doing my 365s:

1. Creativity is driven by the imposition of constraints. There are so many variations of this phrase, in so many fields. Orson Welles said “the enemy of art is the absence of limitations”; Jack Dorsey, one of the co-founders of Twitter, says “constraints inspire creativity”. So make sure you choose a constraint; don’t just say you’re going to take a picture every day. (But not too much of a constraint: a tintype every day, say, or a picture of a volcano every day would be a tall order.) Try limiting yourself to a particular camera, or format, or subject matter.

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2. Bending the rules is OK. If you miss a day it’s not the end of the world; my faulty camera meant I missed a couple of days, so I started taking extra pictures every day just in case, to ensure I’d have enough at the end of each day. It’s the regular habit that is important. Some days you might be on a plane, or distracted by a crisis. If you miss a day, just pick up where you left off the next day, and take an extra shot if you need to.

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3. Don’t worry when you feel uninspired some days. Part of the point of a 365 is to feel the ebb and flow of your creativity. Some days you’ll be raring to go, and other days you won’t. You can’t do much about it, but recognising that this happens means you won’t worry so much about it. You may also have a different perspective by the end of the year. There are some pictures that I thought were boring and uninspired (and some of them were definitely out of focus), but I now consider them to be quiet and reflective, and an important part of the mix. Sometimes you find the meaning later.

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4. Don’t worry if you feel as though you are taking the same picture over and over again. Shooting the same thing many times over the year, in different lights and in different seasons, can be a good way to show the passage of time! Again, sometimes you find the meaning later.

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5. Be sure to wrap up your 365 in some kind of bundle at the end of the year, so you can flip through it again easily (and share it with others). As well as posting on a Tumblr throughout the year, I made by Tri-X 365 into a Artifact Uprising book and a video. Putting it all together like that can be a fiddle, but it’s worth doing and you’ll thank yourself later. Don’t let your photos sit in a folder (whether digital or physical), but bundle them up so you can return to them in the days and years to come. I know I sound like a cracked record, but sometimes you really do find the meaning later. This is true of all photography, but with a 365 you’re storing away a lot of meaning for later discovery. And that’s the best thing of all. If you’re part-way through a 365 right now, or thinking about doing one in future, I wish you the best of luck.

Tri-X 365 from Kirstin Mckee on Vimeo.
(music by Billie Black)

kirstin

17 Comments

  1. If I haven’t said it before, your work is just amazing and leaves me breathless, and inspired. I abandoned a b&w
    365 project last year and my mind is entertaining the thought of giving it another try. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and brilliant images here.

  2. Gosh, that bench photograph is just stunning! Hmm…you’re tempting me to start a 365days project again 🙂 It’s been a while since I did one. Might just be what I need this summer, to stay creative. Lovely work as usual, Kirstin. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Thank you! Maybe just do a short project, with a picture a day for a few months over the summer. I can’t wait to see the results!

  3. Kirstin, I’m glad you stuck it out and these tips are brilliant (images too)! Currently, I’m wavering back and forth between #3 and #4, but keeping on anyway.

  4. Thank you for the post and for also sharing your collection. As one who is swimming toward the light and air these days, I find this so inspirational.

  5. I am so glad that you persevered! This year long project will be such a gift to you and your family for years. And I loved your lessons. xo

  6. I love your project! I did my first 365 in 2009 with my first DSLR…until said camera was lost (long story) and I had to return to my little point and shoot. I almost gave up but decided to just keep after it and I was glad I did! The film commitment on your part was huge! I would not have been that bold. Nice work, as always!

  7. thank you for your precious advice! I’ve enjoyed reading your words and I love these images. all of them. but the one with Miles and your shadow takes my breath away.

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