Photographers never see the moments we capture. We don’t experience them with our subjects.
To capture a photo with a film camera, a mirror must flip up to reveal the shutter and a shutter must fold up to reveal the film. When the mirror flips up, it covers the viewfinder, so all photographers see is a split second of darkness.
And so that beautiful moment is briefly replaced by fear. Fear of blinking eyes, a shaking camera, moving subjects, a moment lost, a facial expression changed, a smile expired, a bird collision or spontaneous combustion.
Or all of them at once.
While imagining world-ending catastrophe, light passes onto the film, the moment is recorded and is then covered up and locked away just as quickly. The mirror returns to its normal position and we can see again.
But I still don’t know what happened in that fraction of a second. And because it’s film, there’s no screen to double check. The inherit trust in yourself is only slightly outweighed by crippling levels of self doubt.
Every printed picture, often seen days or weeks later, is a scary surprise.
And I’ve been taking one photo, one. single. photo. (OK, sometimes two) Every day for 365 days. On film. In 365 days of shooting one terrifying, gut wrenching, “will this turn out like shit?” photo, I never missed a single day.
I never cheated, either. Every single photo in my photo-a-day project was taken one after another from July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017 without doubling up or making up after.
Here’s where it all started: #NoFilter: Shooting 365 photos of Reno life…on film
Halfway through: #NoFilter: The best 26 photos from the first 6 months of my 365 project
So far, only one picture has turned out as just a gray blob. The rest are passable photographs.
Now it’s time to find them all an audience to surprise and delight. But first, I want to tell you how the project evolved before it’s too late and the whole thing ends and the moment is lost in darkness.
#NoFilter is kind of a lie
I originally called the project #NoFilter but that’s not true anymore.
Unlike digital photography, the type of film loaded in the camera dictates the type of photos that can be taken for the entire month. The speed, brand and type of film can dramatically alter the look of the final print. This is the closest equivalent to an Instagram filter.
But it’s still a filter.
The way we frame images, use lenses and perceive the world are all a filter. Once I used film that tints images warm for portraits or blue for tungsten, calling it No Filter no longer made sense.
So I guess I need a new title for the project and inevitable exhibit:
- “A year in film”
- “365 days of film”
- Something that doesn’t have the word “365,” “year,” or “film” in it?
- “Pictured here”
- “From left”
- “Reno and adjacent cities of the west with which Mike visited through a time period stretching roughly 8,760 hours”
I’ll work on it…suggestions welcome.
What’s the moral of the story?
The film makes the photos imperfect and gritty, like our lives and our city.
And it turns out it’s more important to filter images through our experiences and perspective in order to create art.
When I tried to remove myself from the stories, like I do in photojournalism, the photos lost meaning. The more I made the stories about myself experiencing Reno — my moods, the seasons, my travels, the people — the more freedom I found inside the viewfinder.
It sounds simple because I fit it into three little paragraphs, but it was really difficult for me to reshape the way I approach my work. But it has made it infinitely better.
Now it’s time to get the project published in a gallery. I’ve applied to the Sierra Arts Gallery 2018-2019 season. But I also want to try to get it up sooner. Then if it travels that would be great. So I’m looking for other places.
There are also so many small stories I want to tell now. When I started, I felt uninspired and bored with Reno. Now I feel ready to tell more visual stories.
Also, since I started I’ve bought or received three new film cameras to play with. I’ve read a lot, learned a lot and played in a dark room for the first time. I’ve opened myself to new possibilities.
I also gained the confidence to take the pictures I want, which usually means imposing on people, their space and their time. I feel more comfortable walking up to strangers and asking them if I can take their picture, or just taking it if I want a candid moment.
There were times I hated this project (March, I hate you March) and times I loved it (mostly every other month except March). But now that it’s over, I’m going to miss it. Sort of. Well probably not, because damn.
But it’s not as if I can never take a photo again. But now I have purpose and meaning. Imagine what I can do with more than one photo each day.
Watch out Instagram, it’s about to get cray. 😉
Mike Higdon is a journalist who writes, photographs, videos and designs. He lives in Reno, Nevada and enjoys urban life and telling stories about it. You can follow him on Instagram @MillennialMike.