I’m waiting for a few seconds. There’s an image here but the timing isn’t right. I stop down my lens and set the focus to the right ballpark. Closer now. I raise the camera to my eye and quickly fine tune focus. I shift my body to the side to make the composition work and release the shutter. I wind the camera as I take a second glance at the moment just about to pass. Another scene captured on film, preserved forever.
Making at least one photo each day using film soon became second nature. A simple habit that over a year has allowed me to reexamine my connection to photography. The habit became so ingrained that even after the end of the project I’ve kept shooting every day.
As I wrote back at the half way point in June I’m hesitant to even call this a project. It has felt more like an experiment, or perhaps more of an approach to photography.
Regardless of label lots of subtle things happen over a year shooting like this. Unexpected, challenging and enjoyable things that has left me excited, frustrated or ambivalent. I’m surprised by how personal this experiment ended up feeling. There are objective findings I want to share, but thinking back little of the technicalities really stick with me as much as the continuous stream of split second moments. It’s hard to offer any kind of complete summary of it all and even then most of it would probably only be interesting to me personally. So I’ll leave some of the finer nuances and focus on a few key points.
The foundation of this experiment was to shoot at least one frame of film each and every day. I wanted to become more comfortable shooting film, something I’ll get back to. But the main goal was to have a thoughtful documentation of the year – one that was shaping up to be a little bit special. We would have our very first full year with our daughter, we were going to get married and we had a few trips planned. Now it’s of course impossible and unreasonable to strive to document an entire year completely, but the idea to have an image from each and every day felt appealing in this context.
I discovered that it soon became habit. I rarely needed to make a conscious effort not to forget about it. There were a few days where I struggled to shoot just the single frame. Other days I went through entire rolls of film.
I decide to take pictures of my wife or daughter if ever in doubt, figuring that’s always worthwhile. This documentation of the day to day, sometimes exciting, often mundane feels like a re-cemented cornerstone of my shooting. At the end of the year these are the images that are most precious, if not always the ones I’m happiest with from a purely photographic and creative standpoint.
Many images I’m especially satisfied with are from outings or special occasions. Situations where I would’ve been shooting regardless of this project. But that doesn’t make the project superfluous. What shooting every day affords you is a comfort and routine, knowing your tools and the process. I would’ve made images regardless but I’m not convinced they would’ve been as good or felt as transparent to capture.
There are also plenty of photos that I would’ve never had captured if it wasn’t for this project. Lovely moments big and small, places seen ugly and beautiful.
I knew from the start that there would be days where I wouldn’t feel inspired though. Where I would struggle to find something worthwhile to shoot. I wanted to get through the project without breaking my enjoyment of photography. So while the common approach in projects like this is to post exactly one photograph for each day I chose a different approach – a choice I’m very happy about. Posting a collection of images summing up each month felt like a much better approach for how I work. It also feels like a valuable documentation in hindsight. This approach also took a little pressure off in that I didn’t feel like I had to go to extreme lengths to find something unique everyday.
Overall I found shooting every day surprisingly enjoyable and had some positive side-effects beyond the pure documentational aspect.
At the beginning of the year I had just gotten back into shooting film more again. Digital has been my main medium for the entire time I’ve been shooting somewhat seriously, but I’ve dipped my toes both shooting and developing throughout the years. But now was the first time that the roles were reversed – now I aimed to shoot mainly film.
I wanted to become more comfortable with the medium itself, as well as some related skills, mainly estimating exposure by eye.
With the recent resurgence of film the medium has been heralded as having almost magical properties. Listening to some proponents it seems like using it can instantly transform you into a better photographer, the images suddenly become of much higher quality and more lifelike to boot. I don’t know if it’s due to having shot film more in the past but I have a more nuanced view of it. So while I don’t share the view of the medium being almost magical I do feel that there are a few interesting things in the process that push you in certain directions.
Shooting film forces me away from chasing perfection. Good can be the enemy of great but when it comes to photography chasing that perfection can instead leave me not seeing the forest for the trees. Shooting film keeps me in the moment to a greater extent than shooting digital does.
Becoming more comfortable with the medium and the technical aspects of it was surprisingly easy to achieve. Just a dozen weeks into the year I felt sure of getting a usable image in almost any situation. Guessing exposure is far easier than I imagined and all the other little parts of the process soon become simple.
Another aspect was that I also began scanning myself in the beginning of the year, something I’ve written about at length previously. Logistics and economics of this project almost required the change and I’m not sure I would’ve gotten through the project without it. An added advantage is that image quality also increased greatly so I’m very happy to have gone the route that I did.
If there’s one thing that’s become even more clear in this past year it’s that gear plays a very small role in photography. Sure it’s fun to use nice gear and I can spot differences between lenses in most situations. Still as soon as a threshold of good enough is passed there are so many other factors having greater impact on whether an image turns out or not.
I'm certainly happy with the gear I've been using though. The Leica M4-P has been a dependable and freeing camera to use. It has gotten out of my way more than almost anything I’ve ever shot and I feel a rare connection to it. Every lens I’ve fitted to it has worked well and given me wonderful results. The Olympus XA and then the Mju II have been good companions at the times when bringing the Leica has been difficult. I’ve shot a few rolls using the Hasselblad 500C but my lack of good scanning options has kept me from publishing most of it and really kept me from shooting it more.
I’ve enjoyed all the gear I’ve been using just about equally and the keeper rate has been similar regardless (I usually end up with a slightly lower keeper rate using compacts though, but their other strengths makes this irrelevant as they allow me to get images that I wouldn't capture otherwise).
I started out this project shooting B&W film. Something I hadn’t done in years. It was quite refreshing and liberating. After a while I felt compelled to return to color (a choice I wrote a bit about in the March entry). Even now I feel conflicted about the choice. I’ve really come to enjoy aspects of B&W that I’d never really considered before and in some ways I’m tempted to go back to it. Still in other ways I love colour and have a hard time giving it up. At the end of the day I don’t feel like it matters greatly, I chose to stick with colour for the rest of the year for the sake of consistency but I´m sure I would've been as happy with the images if I'd shot them in B&W.
Looking back at the year purely in terms of this project being a success or not it’s pretty clear that I achieved what I set out to do. I’ve become very comfortable shooting film and there’s not a single day that’s not documented in at least a small way.
Becoming a better photographer is often cited for doing a project like this. That hinges on what makes a good photographer and in turn what makes a good image which personally I’m still not sure I’ve arrived at. I’m certain I’ve improved some skills and gained a few new ones. Practice is usually a good thing. In other ways I might be worse off. Creative ruts and shooting fatigue can start to set in and I’m not sure how valuable it is to keep up an approach like this indefinitely.
Still when going through the images made over the year this so called project quickly becomes unimportant. What remains are the memories of little moments captured. If that's not what's actually important I don't know what is.
I picked three images from each month for this summary. Some of them I'm sure are among my favourites, other picks could be different on any other day. It's definitely images I'm happy to have shot regardless. Everything shot on the Leica M4-P or Olympus XA. Developed by Team Framkallning and scanned by me on the Plustek 8200i.