365 Project Originally written for ”The Inspired Eye” published on August 23, 2016. Given the last few years, this feels much further away than a mere 5 years ago. A lot has changed since I wrote this, but then much has stayed the same. I recently came across this and enjoyed the memories it provoked. I hope you enjoy it as well.
***UPDATE December 8th, 2021:
You can view the entire project here: 365 PROJECT
Since I wrote this, a few things have changed. I have updated my gear to a Nikon D750 and a Sigma ART 35mm as my predominate lens. I still continue to work with many of the lenses that I began with. Agnieszka and I have since moved to Warsaw, where I continue to work similarly and enjoy the daily company of our two cats, Luna and Louis. Somehow I managed to do a second 365 project but this one was in BNW, you can also view that here: MONOCHROME 365
Five years ago, my fiancée Agnieszka and I moved from our home in Seattle, where I grew up, to Poland, where she is originally from. The move was mostly spurred on by the idea of being closer to her family since she had lived in the states for 12 years, but the travel distance had become feeling agonizingly and unreasonably far. The catalyst for the move being that she was accepted to graduate school in Poznan, the city that would become our home and one we had not yet visited. For myself, the adventure of another world was all the selling point that I needed to say yes….that and where she goes, I go.
My passion had always revolved around creativity and art. I taught myself how to draw and paint at an early age, influenced by comic books and cinema. Later I attended art school that helped me solidify and make sense out of the techniques I had developed on my own such as perspective, framing and composition as well as understanding light, shadow and the human anatomy. The time and effort in Art School proved to be invaluable. However, in order to pay the bills I landed in the hospitality industry and developed a different set of skills while earning a living. Of all of the skills that I acquired through those years working as a waiter, barman or floor manager I learned how to observe from a distance and appreciate the patience of moments and while working in the back of the house as a cook I learned the attention to detail and patience of craft.
Some years ago, I hit the proverbial creative wall, and boy, was it a thick one. I was in a slump where I just couldn’t seem to focus on anything that could help bring me out of it and as a result, I stopped drawing, painting, sketching, reading, etc. Really, a kind of nightmare for anyone, but for me that time resembled a self imposed prison cell. At the encouragement of my fiancée, who is an avid photographer in her own right, I picked up the camera to help discover a new creative process and give me something to help unlock this cell of mine. She gave me a few simple lessons on how to use the camera in manual mode, change the lens, different functions, etc and let me run with it. And I began to explore my world. Slowly at first.
At first the camera was very intimidating to me, bulky, heavy and uncomfortable. At the time, it was a Nikon D80 that we had purchased brand new and already had an assortment of lenses. This is actually the very same camera that I continue to use today, eight years later. At that time, everything about this camera seemed to be uncomfortable, somewhat hard to manage and I didn’t quite grasp as to how this was supposed to help me creatively. But, because Agnieszka had implored my use of the instrument, I continued to work with it, and after many weeks of trial and error, I discovered a taste for shooting macro and revealing the smaller often unseen world around us. My subject of intrigue was rust and I shot a lot of it, pursuing it with newfound passion. It was common for me to go to a junk yard and shoot hundreds if not thousands of rusty landscape images as close as I could get the 60mm lens to focus on them. The explosions of alien landscapes and colorful nature really set my creative edge on fire and it remained this way for some time. Yet still, I was afraid of standing back and opening up to the world around me.
Working through all of this rust, the camera began to become a part of my persona and I would travel everywhere with it. I was still very intimidated about how to frame shots that were not up close, but as time went on I began to experiment with street shots or subjects that interested me. About this time I was also heavily involved with the community at Flickr, posting each day, looking at thousands of images and participating in discussions. Often, I would see another artist’s work and try to replicate or figure out how they were able to get that type of shot. This is when I learned about how optics played a huge part in how the shot would come out. I began to insist that we get a 50mm as soon as we could. And we did. And from that point, there was a huge shift in what I could see and how I could now connect the viewer to it.
Getting the 50mm 1.4 lens changed my entire approach. Suddenly I discovered the beauty of bokeh and blur, the crispness of focus and depth of field and how it helped to compose the image and often mirrored how I normally saw my world and allowed the creativity in me to flow. Now I was in love with the camera and couldn’t get enough of shooting. I began to join groups online and started to see some sense of my own early style and color emerge.
Jumping ahead to our move to Poland, I realized that what I knew about photography was going to change the very first day we hit the streets. I started to get a sense of the “story” I wanted to tell to my family and friends back home. Suddenly my brand new world was at once alien yet interesting, and every detail seemed to scream at me to be acknowledged. My way of communicating all of this to my loved ones was of course through the camera and thankfully, social media. I experimented with “street” photography back in Seattle, but never really made it work. Here, the streets of Poznan offered me a new school of viewing the world around me and I dove in, opening up, exploring and chasing the “feeling” of what I was seeing.
My first year here, was a year of getting myself acquainted with my new surroundings and learning my perimeters of fear and curiosity. For a time it felt like a long vacation but then it settled on being home and my images began to be a bit more personal and relaxed. Surrounded by so much newness and difference, I found inspiration in every detail and everything around me. The style of how I would shoot soon began to shift as I learned new approaches and techniques to subject matter based on the season, light and very often weather. That first year gave me some chops, but my approach to shooting really changed the second year, as we opened up a small coffee shop and I began to walk to work early in them morning, seeing these incredible sunrises, often with a backdrop straight from a film. I was hooked and I began to shoot anything and everything in these minutes as I went to work, in every season as it passed accumulating an almost unconscious stream of work. I had never really worked with people in my shots but found myself very attracted to lone figures moving through the city heading about their day, unaware of my interest. Later I realized that I often imagined myself as these solitary lone figures and my images reflected on how I see myself walking through the city. An alien in an alien landscape.
Last year, I again found myself in a sort of creative slump and knew I needed to act before it became a cell again and I knew I would have to push myself hard to get different results and rewards. So instead of backing away I decided to go full on and start a 365 project where I would shoot and post one image a day for a year. Such a simple sentence really but it only sounds easy. Upon announcing that I would be doing this, I knew it was the right decision but I was also not sure I would be able to commit for the duration so I decided to not put so many parameters on it and leave it to an image a day for a full year. My subject would be open to whatever caught my eye and made me pause.
Shooting every day has its challenges and sometimes I would have to get creative to work around them. Sickness for one. What to do when you have the flu and just don’t want to get out of bed..or can’t? Travel…I had to negotiate a 9 hour time difference as I traveled back to Seattle and keep up on my daily project as I shuffled between airports, time zones, baggage, etc. Still, I managed to find something that would remind me of this as I look back. No excuses, just shoot. One time, I dropped my camera as I was shooting. I was so afraid it was broken that I panicked. In my panic, I tried to shoot as I normally would and for that frame the camera would not focus…it made an awful noise and then clicked. Afterwards it went back to normal, but I have the image as one of the shots because it reminds of that second of terrible, gut wrenching feeling. The positives outweigh the negatives by a landslide. I have a year of images under my belt that I would never have had the chance to take otherwise. That alone is worth all of it.
I have just finished my 354th day and have only a few left of this amazing project and I have not yet sat down to explore my feelings about every image and all that has transpired through the last year. That will come later I imagine. For now, I have a body of work that encompasses travels, publishing a book, daily life, sickness, winter, cold, heat, warm, people getting older, family, loved ones, and my life, at home, abroad but mostly with Agnieszka, our love, our new kittens and our commitment to each other. She may not be in every image, but her presence is. I also had the chance to travel back to Seattle for the first time in five years and this is also part of this journey.
On an average, I have shot around 100 images a day for 354 days now. I have filled 4TB of backlogs and most of these images I have not really had the time to look at. Soon I will begin the process of sorting those stories as well and am quite curious as to what I shall find. My equipment has always been minimal. I use for the most part a Nikon D80 with usually a Nikon 35mm 1.8, but sometimes I use a Nikon 50mm 1.4 or a Tamaron 20–35mm. I also use my Samsung A5 phone from time to time, especially when travelling so that I can post if I need to. I am a believer in “whatever you have on you” philosophy and approach to shooting. I keep my everyday walking kit minimal here in the city and have grown used to this because as a group, Polish people are very wary and often suspicious of cameras. So, since I am kind of a big guy, I try to be as inconspicuous as I can be. That being said, I do draw a crowd often when I am pursuing an image in a puddle mostly because I am sure it looks so absurd.
Over the course of this last year, I have learned an incredible amount about myself and how I approach subjects, my choices for how I shoot, the light that drives me and the subjects that I pursue out of the corner of my eye. During this journey I have learned to appreciate the little things and live by the mantra “If I don’t go, I will never know” to help drive me out the door each day. I have learned to be less focused on perfection and letting it go so that I can enjoy the moment and be more mindful of the present. I have learned that every moment is important and to not judge it so much as it passes, allowing for a deeper appreciation of the people around me and that often there is truth in what could easily be disregarded. I have learned that there is always a story that is worthy of being told if you look long enough.
Cześć (hello) from Poland.
**Note: I am now finished with the project and still looking back very fondly on the body of work that makes up for that year. I am so grateful that I made the decision to do the 365 and even now as new struggles and life challenges take place, I look back on that year with awe and inspiration.