Ode to Ordinary Life: The surprising value of an “every day” creative project

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I took a picture every day with a Fuji Instax Mini 90 camera throughout 2018.

My self-imposed conditions were simple: take only one a day and use it no matter what. I mostly stuck to this, though due to both technical and user failures on some occasions the resulting image was just so bad, I gave myself some slack and took more than one.

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Here’s what I learned:

  • A daily act of creation is its own reward: Doing something creative deliberately every day requires discipline, but also creates its own universe in a way and adds a little drop of meaning into every day.
  • Casual, intimate moments with friends and family mattered most: I sought and found something (almost) every day that stood out as the most important part of that day. While the vast majority of the moments I chose to snap the shot are just mundane, everyday bits of my normal life, I realized that these moments were, in fact, the ones I cared the most about. While I was busier than ever in my professional life photographing CEOs and executive portraits, big splashy events, several conferences (and the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau on three separate occasions), on most of these days my photo-of-the-day was a picture of my daughter hugging her new puppy, or hanging out with friends and family having a drink and a laugh.
  • Image quality doesn’t always matter: while I often found myself frustrated by the extreme limitations of the instant print medium, I loved the authenticity of the print in my hand and the nostalgic reminder of what photography started as: a way to steal a moment of time and put it in your pocket as a memory you could keep and return to whenever you wanted to.
  • Polaroid has huge name brand recognition!: No matter how many times I told people I was shooting with a Fuji Instax Mini 90 (and no this was not a sponsored project at all though the product links are Amazon Affiliate links which will pay me a small commission if you buy through them), almost 99% of the time people would reply with a comment about what a cool idea it was to take a Polaroid a day.
  • Puppies are addictive: I finally understand why the internet is drowning in pet photos and videos. (I took A LOT of photos of my new puppy and my daughter!)
  • I am very lucky and have a good life: I spent time with many friends, family and was able to travel a fair bit this year to Paris, Bruges, Ghent, Brussels, Antwerp, Amsterdam, Quebec’s Saguenay region, Toronto, Brooklyn (a reunion with a good friend and too many martinis-see Aug 24), Trout Point Lodge in Nova Scotia, Tremblant, Florida and many fun nights with friends here in my favourite city in the world, Montreal. While I don’t keep a gratitude journal, this project was like a photo diary of my life and in retrospect it shows how much I have to be grateful for.

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Why did I do it?

When I started I didn’t really have any real reason other than wanting to have some kind of creative project to work on that was one step removed from my regular life.

Having completed it, I am happy to have it done, but also happy I did it. I think there is value in the daily practice of anything – whether a piece of creative writing, a drawing, a photo like I did, a doodle, an idea, a blog post or whatever you decide matters to you.  If you are stuck creatively or wanting to start a new career as an artist, or writer it can give you the discipline you need to break out of entropy and ultimately it will carry you on its own momentum.

Here’s a fun and inspiring video about the impact a daily project had on an artist who decided to do a drawing a day:

My advice to anyone who’s currently embarking on a 30-day challenge, or an every day project is to stick with it. Cut yourself some slack if you miss a day, but make it up (I admit to plugging in two or three photos in this series that were fill-ins for days I forgot to take a shot). Both the doing-it and the finishing-it parts are important. Share what you learn, and if you’re feeling brave enough, share daily as you do it. I chose not to post daily as frankly, I felt that so many of the photos I took were so bad that it would be boring as a daily stream, but in their entirety they have a kind of raw, genuine quality that I enjoy and hope you do as well.

To see the whole year series click on the image below:

 

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Happy 2019!

 

Are you lighting sparklers or seeking stargazers?

Murano glass made with stardust

People care less than you think.

At least in the beginning. Whether you’re launching a new blog, posting something on social media or making a big public announcement, don’t be blinded by likes or other vanity metrics. The truth is that most people spend a lot less time thinking about you than you think they do.

Respect the truly narrow and limited bandwidth you have for most people’s attention. Many people assume they have an “information highway” when in fact that road is pencil thin and getting thinner.

The best way to get attention is not to seek it at all.

Instead, set high standards for yourself and try to exceed them. Do the work every day that you need to do and keep putting it out there. Some of what you do will fall flat on its face even when you think it’s your best work, and other things you do may resonate deeply and widely across a broad spectrum of people, even if you don’t think it’s anything special.

Most people are not very good judges of their own work. One of the ways to get better at it is to make a clear and distinct break between the creation of the work and the editing. As a photographer I know this intimately. The hardest part of what I do is reviewing my images after the shoot is over and trying to cull it down to a tight selection of truly great images. My initial reaction is always too negative, so I like to put a pause between the work and the editing of the work, to let the images sink in a bit and give my brain time to forget the extraneous details. Rushing into the editing process too quickly after the creation phase is ineffective. The mental modes are different and different parts of your brain are engaged when you are being creative and responsive to your surroundings  – which is a fundamental trait of a photographer – versus, trying to judge and select an image based on an explicit or implicit set of criteria for what makes a good image. When I am shooting I sometimes naturally discover a perfect composition that I would be hard-pressed to really articulate and have an even harder time trying to create in advance. Similarly, when I am reviewing my work after a period of inattention to it, I find I am able to see patterns and compositions that work that I was unaware of during the image creation phase. Without time between creation and curation, I am much less able to discern these qualities.  You need to get above the work in order to see it for what it is.

But even once you’ve done your best job editing and curating, ruthlessly stripping away the unnecessary and leaving behind just enough to showcase the flowers, you shouldn’t expect much. The most common response to putting something out into the world is silence.

But that silence shouldn’t be interpreted wholly as indifference. It may well be, of course, but it may also be that whatever it is you’ve done hasn’t been discovered by the person for whom it is exactly perfectly made for. Or it may be that your work is perfect but not in sync with the times, or the mood, or most probably it’s because attention is the scarcest available resource in a digital age, and what attracts it initially is not always the best work. In fact, the most attention drawing things online usually are ones that require the least effort on the part of the attention giver. Think Kim Kardashian’s butt selfies vs EU’s immigration policy reviews.

Digital experiences aimed at garnering the most attention are like sparklers. They create a sense of excitement and are hard not to look at, but they don’t last very long. Conversely, building something of value that takes time and comprises real sustained effort – whether that’s a company, a novel, a well thought out experience – is like adding a tiny little star to the universe. It may be just one among millions, but its part of something beautiful and who hasn’t wished upon a star at least once in their lives?

I’d rather be the kind of creator whose work takes on more meaning over time. I’d rather create things that connect to others because they experience a sense of discovery, recognition, maybe joy or something else that matters to them personally than simply aiming to light a bigger and more sparklier sparkler.