How to define “mojo”? Well, the dictionary on my desk says:
“… a magic charm, talisman or spell”
Which is all well and good and accurate etcetera but not quite how we tend to use it as we tend to define that peculiar lethargy that robs us of the inclination to create as “losing my mojo”. Clearly, for me that means photography but I think it can be interpreted much more loosely and be used to encompass not just creative activities but other less creative pursuits.
As an aside, mojo is also the name given to several spicy sauces originating in the Canary Islands. But I digress (and not for the first time).
I do try to stay creative and full of energy and my 365 Challenge has proved very effective in keeping my enthusiasm alive but even so there are the odd days when it is more of an effort. I wrote this piece on one such day as part of my daily fifteen minutes free-writing exercise. I was supposed to have been in Manchester indulging in some street photography but, long story short, I’m at home through no fault of my own. Perhaps the sudden removal of something I’ve been looking forward to all week has contributed to this lack of enthusiasm?
I’ve just taken the grandson to school, something I do most days, and slipped my Fuji X100t in my pocket intending to wander down to the canal for a walk and to take a few snaps. Instead, I went straight to my favourite local cafe and had breakfast before heading home. I did listen to a podcast on my phone whilst at the cafe so not all was lost – but still I avoided using the camera!
I’m not the first and won’t be the last to lose their mojo and in fact this wasn’t even my first such case of a disappearing mojo but nevertheless it is worrying whenever it happens. Sure, history shows that I will get over it … but what if?
The good news is that disappearing mojos have a knack of returning especially with a lit bit of gentle coaxing. The first thing I do is put the camera away and if practical take a walk (without a camera) or sit with a coffee and a (non-photography) book. Sometimes just forgetting about creating for a while can help to clear the negative log-jam that is holding your creative juices back.
Another thing that often works for me is tidying up my desk. Sounds odd but simply handling the photographic detritus on my desk and putting it back where it belongs can often reignite an interest in doing something. That fisheye lens buried under a pile of papers that hasn’t been used in a while … now I wonder … It’s a bit like buying new kit without the costs involved; new kit is a sure fire way for many of us to get out with a camera and regain that enthusiasm but it’s not always economically viable.
If that doesn’t work I take a look back through my archive and remind myself of the many “wins” in a bid to remove negative thoughts. Sometimes seeing an old image can rekindle an interest in a particular technique or subject leading me to have another try.
If there is one thing that my own experience has taught me however it’s that I shouldn’t panic. The “lost” mojo is not gone but merely stood out of sight for a while, it will return and sometimes stressing about it only makes things worse.
I wrote in my last post about why I have committed to a picture-a-day and how I’ve recently passed the 500th consecutive day.
I’ve just shot today’s “insurance” image; an image taken early in the day just in case I don’t get out later for a proper walk or shoot. In the 500+ days since I started the picture-a-day I’ve only used my insurance shot twice but I still take one most days just to be safe. I have a list of potential images in my head centred around the Dean Clough area of Halifax. Many of my daily images have come from this historical and immensely interesting site and in addition I am there most mornings when taking the wife to work. It is therefore also a great option for the insurance shot. Other options that I have in the back of my head are possibilities close to my home in Elland and within easy walking distance regardless of the weather.
I guess this concept of an insurance shot is one of the most important things I’ve learnt in the context of how I need to approach a 365. Another is not to stress out about it, the images will flow if your mind is receptive, and it cannot be creatively receptive if you are stressing about the next shot. It is a Challenge but it is not a matter of life or death after all!
For me the most important question is whether or not I’m happy with the image I post each day. For the most part I’ve been very happy. There are a couple that with the benefit of hindsight I’m not overly keen on but nevertheless there are none that I regret posting. Indeed, the Challenge has meant that I’ve got a lot of images this year that I simply would not have made without the daily challenge. There are numerous days when I would probably have stayed at home and not ventured out were it not for the Challenge.
I spent the last few years of my working life living, breathing and even dreaming (yes, really) spreadsheets. You’d have thought I’d have had enough of them but somehow the picture-a-day project drew me back into the murky world of spreadsheets and data analysis. Thankfully not in too much depth but enough to be able to tell you that of my first 500 images just under 30% were mono/black & white which was really unexpected. Prior to starting the “365” Project only around 10% of my posted work was in colour so for my pictures-of-the-day to account for 70% was very counter intuitive. Having a regular audience (the members of the 365 Group I joined) must have subconsciously steered me towards colour. So far in 2019 around 40% has been black and white and it seems I am subconsciously trying to redress the balance as it were.
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The shift towards urban photography was to be expected; I cannot escape to the mountains every day after all. One unexpected piece of intelligence I gleaned however was how little I was using my full-frame Nikon D800E and it’s partner the D7100. Delving into Lightroom recently I found I had not used either Nikon for getting on six months and so the decision to fully embrace the Fuji system and sell the last of my Nikon kit was made.
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So, after 500 days into the Challenge I feel I’m reaping the benefits I’d hoped for and taking images is now just part of what I do every day. Whilst I do not have the luxury of a full days shooting every day I am spending time every day with a camera.
One of the benefits I hadn’t anticipated was that I am now “photo-ready” at all times. In the past if there’s been a couple of weeks between shoots I’ve taken time to get my eye in and settle in to the rhythm as it were. Now my eye is ever-ready it seems and I am better equipped to take advantage of even the smallest opportunities for image making.
A “365” won’t be for everyone but I’m intrigued to see how far I can go with it!
Back in October 2017 I embarked upon a challenge to take a picture a day every day. Said pictures to be shared to a dedicated Flickr group as soon as practical, ideally on the same day but no pressure if not. I initially set out to create a daily image for the 63 days that remained in 2017 in the hope that it would give me the experience needed to attempt my first full 365 in 2018. Back in February 2015 I’d attempted a picture a day for 28 days and whilst I made the 28 images it was not a success, I even resorted to photographing the contents of the car boot at eleven pm one evening with my phone as we checked into a hotel. However, I recently passed the 500 image mark, that is over 500 consecutive daily images! I’ve been reflecting on the experience and am going to share these reflections over a couple of posts; this one and another in a day or two.
Why did I do it? I certainly asked this question on more than one occasion over the last 500 days! It’s definitely been a challenge, both creatively and logistically but there is no doubt it quickly became a habit, just part of my normal, daily routine. There is also a huge amount of personal satisfaction as each milestone ticks up. A week, one month, 50 days, 100 days, six months, one year … each milestone provided a further goal to aim for, to aspire to. It’s a useful motivational boost as each milestone is passed.
I use a spreadsheet (more on this in part two) to catalogue each image noting how many are posted on the day and other factual data. I also make a point of writing a short (well, usually it is short) caption for each image. I belong to a dedicated 365 group on Flickr, we limit ourselves to around 50 members at any one time, and by being part of the group I get a sense of community, support and of course some welcome encouragement and feedback. Feedback can be motivational or constructive and is often both. A simple “like” can lift the spirits and I just wish I was able to comment on more images from my fellow members every day.
On a practical level I quickly learned to carry a camera at all times. My smartphone made a good substitute early on but I soon got into the habit of dropping one of my smaller cameras in my bag or pocket whenever I went out. The Fuji X100t has been the workhorse for this project and in fact is now stored in my bag permanently. I have however used every digital camera I own, or have owned, during the past 500 days a fact I have also tabulated in part two.
I vowed at the start that pictures of my breakfast or arty shots of my Americano in Costa Coffee would be taboo. Whilst some of the everyday shots of life in Elland are bordering on the banal, they are to me slices of social history (I don’t mean to sound pretentious) whilst pictures of my coffee would by my reckoning be simply lazy although I totally get that for some people it’s an important part of the documentary process. It depends on your personal objectives I guess. The most difficult couple of days came over the Winter of 2017/2018, less than five weeks into the challenge. I contracted pneumonia and spent the next three months on steroids, antibiotics and under virtual house arrest to avoid hospitalisation. I kept the 365 alive with macro images shot in the back or front yard or still life set ups in the spare bedroom. Numerous images taken from the bedroom window tested my creativity. There were two consecutive days when I physically couldn’t manage even these simple activities though but on both days I made it downstairs long enough to snap pictures of my medication hanging on the Christmas tree – surely the most banal images I’ve snapped during the challenge but still they tell a story (see above for an example). Many images during this period were shot on a full frame Nikon D800E digital camera which, as is revealed in the next instalment, [spoiler alert] has largely been replaced in my day to day photography by Fuji X-series cameras.
Whereas in the past photography was a specific activity that I planned in advance I now find that photography is just something that I include in my daily routine. I often take my wife to work at 7am and rather than turning around and coming straight home I have taken to spending ten or fifteen minutes taking photographs before going home. I don’t miss the fifteen minutes in the context of my daily chores and I exercise my photographic muscles in the process. Some days I drive in, noting the light and by the time I drop the wife off I know exactly what I am going to photograph and from which vantage point. I created a very pleasing series of blue-hour images in this way none of which would have been taken in the past when photography was a specific something that I did. I now photograph as part of my routine daily functions such as breathing, eating and sneezing.
On days when I have chores at home I regularly take a short walk early afternoon, partly to stretch my legs and get some fresh air but mainly to give me the opportunity to look for images. I always carry a camera and whilst I may not come back with that day’s image every time it has proven a very fruitful activity and greatly increased my knowledge of my local patch and it’s possibilities.
So much of what is needed for a successful 365 seems to come down to your state of mind I feel and how you approach or think about things:
I carry a camera all the time – even when walking down to the newsagents for the daily papers;
I look AND see, noting what might make a good image and under what circumstances – greedily storing away opportunities for the future;
I do not rely on photography “trips” – every time I leave the house is a photographic opportunity – it’s a state of mind;
I make opportunities out of my daily routines;
I no longer worry about what other people might think of my images – I photograph anything that takes my eye, that moves or amuses me – if others like it then that is a bonus;
Train yourself to look beyond the obvious – floral portraits have been a staple of my back yard photography in the past but there are also shapes, shadows and the play of light on the steps if I look AND see;
Don’t Panic! If you are really concerned about capturing that day’s image then try to take an “insurance shot” before breakfast – it’s amazing how that frees you from worrying and sometimes it turns out to be better than you’d anticipated;
Embrace the location, the weather, the light – cameras also work in the rain and the dark – in fact dark, rainy nights in town can make some great images – just get out there;
Sounds counter-intuitive but stop thinking about the daily image – free your mind from the worry and your creativity can come to the surface – sounds a bit “New Age” thinking but it does work – trust me.
And before anyone thinks I’m implying this is easy – I am not. It can still be hard work but by approaching it with the correct mind set and incorporating it into part of your daily routine, rather than a standalone activity, it is possible to ease the burden and more importantly really enjoy the process whilst expanding your skills and competency at the same time.