Another Day – A Photograph A Day
Over the years a few of my photographer friends have taken on the commitment of taking a photograph a day for a year. I have always admired their dedication, often liked the resulting images but questioned the sanity of embracing a task like this. Finding the time and mental energy for such a challenge has always felt like a step too far for me. As a professional photographer whose main source of income comes from running frequent and regular workshops in locations across the world, I could never see me making the space in my diary and my head to find a different image every day.
That was until earlier in 2021. Covid hit my business hard in 2020 – my planned photo trips and workshops were wiped out and I had to adapt to a new way of working. My wife and I also took the opportunity of the space in my diary to fulfil a long-held ambition to move to a more rural location. By the end of 2020 I was beginning to feel the toll of both developing creative ways of bringing in an income and the pressures associated with moving to a new house. My energy levels were low, my motivation to go out with my camera close to non-existent and my creativity flagging. Something had to change.
So, back in February, I resolved to make a new photograph a day for twelve months. The hope was that this would force me out with my camera, to start engaging my photographic brain again and revitalise my enthusiasm.
I came up with a title for the project (‘Another Day’) and set myself some constraints and boundaries: –
– all the images would be black and white/monochrome. To some this may seem like giving yourself the task of climbing a mountain with one arm tied behind your back, but I know that my creative spirit responds well to imposing some limitations on myself;
– all the photographs had to be made within a specific day. There was to be no fudging of the boundaries. For example, by being ‘generous with the truth’ about when a photo had actually been taken on the basis of ‘who would know?’ or ‘who would care?’. This exercise was primarily for me and I wasn’t going to give myself any easy ‘get-outs’;
– in this sprit I wasn’t going to allow myself the luxury of casual snaps (e.g. easy pictures of my dog or family). Each image would have to be founded on a thought, idea, concept or emotion;
– however, I would allow myself to ‘create’ images – for example, still life shots of flowers or objects found around my home. But they too should be founded on a thought, idea, concept or emotion – there had to be something that day that made the subject relevant beyond ‘they looked attractive’. Associated with this, I did impose a limitation on creating photos – objects or subjects I encountered beyond my home had to be shot as found; no moving them into position or altering them in any way.
Has the project worked? I will let you judge the images for yourself, but it has had the desired impact on my energy and enthusiasm for photography. For the first time in 6 months I have gone out for the day, armed with camera gear and tripod for a solid days photography. I have also enjoyed working outside of my comfort zone – shooting subjects I’d never previously attempted or had not photographed for years. It has also forced me to be very disciplined with myself in asking the question – ‘what is the thought, idea, concept or emotion behind this image? Why are you taking it?’.
From a very personal perspective it has forced me to deal with some very searching questions about my own photography (my motivations, passions, convictions, doubts and frustrations) as well as my view of life in general (my past mistakes, my future, my feelings, hopes, aspirations and fears). And this in the context of dealing (like everyone else) with Covid, lockdowns and restrictions. As a result, some of the images are, to me at least, an immensely powerful expression of my grappling with these questions and as a result they have helped me to deal with those issues more effectively by externalising them through photography. As the images reflect my moods and thoughts, they capture the full range of emotions I feel on a day to day basis – from happy to sad and everything in between.
I was initially reluctant to share some of the resulting images with anyone as I thought no one else would be interested in my exploration of such personal themes. But when I have cautiously shared the photographs with others, I have been surprised at the impact they have had. It is as if the powerful emotions associated with the photographs embody them with a resonance that permeates through, even though the viewers are not aware of the motivations that underpin them.
Working on this project has prompted me to consider at length a quote by John Szarkowski (written in 1978 in the catalogue of the ‘Mirrors and Windows’ exhibition held at MoMa, New York): –
“The two creative motives that have been contrasted here are not discrete. Ultimately each of the pictures in this book is part of a single, complex, plastic tradition.……… The distance between them is to be measured not in terms of the relative force or originality of their work, but in terms of their conceptions of what a photograph is: is it a mirror, reflecting a portrait of the artist who made it, or a window, through which one might better know the world?”
The majority, but by no means all, of the photographs taken for ‘Another Day’ fall closer to the ‘mirror’ end of the continuum in that they are subjective, reflective and personal rather than being objective and documentary in nature. It has been said before that the camera looks both ways – that a photograph says as much about the photographer as it is does about the subject. Over the years I have always been aware of that every time I have pressed the shutter but probably no more so than when taking the images for this project.
This small rural garage is located a short drive from our new home. I have been past it many times over the last 30 years and witnessed its slow decline into its current state of abandonment – a sad and forlorn sight; a shadow of its former self.
When walking around it with my camera I reflected on how, in better days, it would have looked just like those fuel stations I visited in my Grandad’s Ford Anglia back in the 1960s. My thoughts led me to ponder how much I have changed in the last fifty-five years and question how much of that 10 year old boy is left inside this 65 year old man. So, the title is both a statement and a personal question.
During yet another Covid lockdown and confined to being indoors by the very wet weather I was feeling low in spirit as I looked out through the rain falling on my office window. I noticed a Red Kite wheeling overhead – how I yearned for the freedom that bird was enjoying.
I frequently tell attendees on my workshops to photograph what they feel as much, if not more than what they see. I know that is easy to say but to successfully achieve it requires practice, perseverance, and experience. Even then not every attempt will communicate mood & emotion as effectively as I might hope. But undeterred I continue to try.
With this image I used the electricity pylon as a metaphor for me – trapped and bounded by the window frame in a dark part of the image. In contrast I placed the bird in open and lighter space on the right to emphasise the sense of freedom I felt it had. I chose an aperture to record the out of focus rain splatters on the glass to convey the mood of a miserable, wet day.
On a much lighter note, this photograph was taken close to home in the local school playing field. An old, abandoned roller sits neglected and I have photographed the rust & decay many times. On this occasion I spotted for the first time that some comedian had spray painted ‘GTi’ on the front. It is not an earth shattering or thought-provoking image, but it made me smile so I thought it was worth firing the shutter for.
Over the years, usually on family holidays with our children to the coast, we have collected the odd rock or shell as a reminder of good times. They may only be shells, but their significance lies in the happy memories they contain so we have them around the house – in the bathroom, on windowsills and in pots and bowls – as a constant reminder of those times.
They make me think of long walks on sandy beaches and the sound of the sea rolling onto the shore. Covid has prevented trips to the coast – I have not seen the sea for 15 months and I miss it so much. This still life, set up in the bedroom and lit by natural light, at least lets me dream of those times if only for a moment.
Working on this project has encouraged me to wander around my house, camera in hand, watching how the light streams through the windows illuminating quite mundane objects and, for a few minutes at least, turning them into something special.
These experiences have reminded me of two quotes. One from Confucius: –
“Everything has beauty but not everyone sees it”.
And the second from Saul Leiter: –
“A photographer’s gift to the viewer is sometimes beauty in the overlooked ordinary”.
This photograph is of the light hitting nothing more exciting than a pair of wardrobe doors. I explored different framing options, moving backwards and forwards, tilting the camera at different angles until I found this composition of triangles. I thought the light hitting the doorknobs provided an interesting counterpoint of shape.
Finding a fresh image every day in the middle of continuing to run my business and working with my wife to sort out our new house & garden has not been easy. The creative muse does not always fire an arrow of inspiration when it is convenient to go find a camera and take a shot. There have been many days when I have had to work hard to come up with an idea and then find the time to turn that into an image.
This photograph was taken on one such day. I had been busy on other things and it was raining outside and the light was fading. Panic was creeping in – what could I photograph? I then remembered a former workshop participant of mine had produced interesting abstract images using cutlery and tools from her kitchen drawer. Grabbing some forks, I polished them with a cloth and started arranging them on a textured book cover as a background in front of the bedroom window. The natural light, combined with the use of a white pillowcase as a reflector, may have looked Heath Robinson but gave me the play of light and shade I wanted. I experimented with different design ideas until I came up with this one that reminded me of a flower.
Several of the photographs taken for ‘Another Day’ have been a positive and encouraging reminder that I do not always have to travel far from home to exercise my creative brain and produce images of interest.
Ruth Bernhard once said: –
“I never look for a photograph. The photograph finds me and says, ‘I am here’”.
And Cartier-Bresson: –
“Photography is ………. intuition, a poetic experience. You can’t go looking for it; you can’t want it or you won’t get it. First you must lose yourself. Then it happens.”
I have certainly re-discovered through this project that the more desperate I am to find a photograph and the more frantic I become in that search the less likely I am to find it. Conversely, if I go out in a more relaxed state with an open mind and heart then generally the image “finds me”.
One winter evening I wandered down the nearby lane, camera in hand needing to find a photograph before my wife implemented her threat of putting my dinner in the dog. A voice inside me told me to relax, that there would be a photograph out there somewhere. Coming to the end of the lane, beyond any man-made illumination, I looked towards the moon through the branches of the trees reaching upwards as if they were trying to wrench the moon from the night sky. Quite a sinister sight and my emotional reaction told me I had found my shot (and I made it home before the dog devoured my dinner!).
Technical Note: –
All of the images illustrating this article were shot with a Leica Q2 Monochrom
If you would like to learn with Steve Gosling, he will be running a number of online development events with provider, ‘Photography Experts’, Currently planned in May & June 2021 are: –
A free ‘Introductory’ talk about Steve and his work (19th May)
A ‘Behind the Scenes’ presentation on 3rd June (cost £6.50) when Steve will talk about a selection of his images (what he photographed, why and how) to give a detailed insight into his way of working.
A 5 Part Masterclass, ‘Developing Your Vision’ which starts on the 23rd June (cost £225) aimed at photographers looking to develop their photographic vision to produce unique, expressive, powerful and thought provoking images.
Harrogate, North Yorkshire
I am a UK based professional photographer who loves black & white photography. My photographs have been widely published & exhibited internationally and has won many awards – most recently achieving an ‘Honor of Distinction’ in the prestigious international ‘B&W Spider Awards’ in 2018. I enjoy writing & teaching about photography and have run a successful workshop programme for nearly 20 years, encouraging and inspiring photographers from across the world. I am an Ambassador for Olympus, Gitzo & Permajet inkjet papers as well as working closely with Phase One and Lee Filters.